From Refugee to Reporter

IT WAS DIFFICULT to have ambitions while growing up as a stateless ethnic Karen refugee in a camp on the Thailand­ Burma border. Long before refugee resettlement abroad was a possibility and Burma had a quasi-civilian government, Naw Noreen faced a future strewn with barriers.

Naw Noreen, reporter for Democratic Voice of Burma Radio (credit: Kim Nguyen van Zoen/Internews)

Naw Noreen, reporter for Democratic Voice of Burma Radio (credit: Kim Nguyen van Zoen/Internews)

Today, she relishes the ever increasing freedoms and opportunities ahead of her as a radio journalist for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).

"As a normal person you don't get a chance to talk to many kinds of people. But as reporters, we can talk to anyone, from ordinary people experiencing problems to the president," she said.

Her first break came when she received an offer to work in the Thai town of Mae Sot for Inside News,a small magazine working to highlight the difficult lives of thousands of displaced Karen people surviving in conflict zones across the border.

With the support of an Internews trainer, the former refugee learned basic journalism skills and began researching and writing stories, as well as contributing to layout.

She had the journalism bug. "But I wanted more skill;' she recalled. "To be able to report the news about my country and especially about Karen State, I needed more education."

Amplifying a Plurality of Voices

At Internews' J School, the trainers' emphasis on the need for multiple sources for stories and fact­ checking felt like a big ask.

"People in Burma in those days could not be open. It was hard to talk to many people for one story. You could certainly never talk to government officials."

Naw Noreen's stories were often about events in remote, mountainous, war affected ethnic areas where communication was poor to non-existent. Finding multiple sources for the small amount of news that trickled out of those areas was often impossible.

But the J School was changing her life in other ways.

"In the refugee camp, the issue was always about finding enough money for daily life. At school, I met journalists from lots of backgrounds," she said "By the time I had finished I had learned how to work with different people and organizations, and also how I could survive, financially."

She would have liked to have interned abroad at the end of the program; unfortunately, Internews had just decided it had to impose a moratorium on international internships after a small percentage of trainees from previous years had applied for asylum or opted to live illegally abroad.

"I felt unlucky that 1 didn't get the opportunities the trainees had in previous years."

Instead, however, Internews helped her earn a position at DVB, where she has worked ever since in a career she loves.

DVB's reputation soared after its television coverage, transmitted on then-illegal satellite dishes, became the main source of news for many people in Burma during the Saffron Revolution and Cyclone Nargis.

Since 2011, reporters' lives have gotten significantly easier, and journalism more normalized.

"It's totally changed," she said. "More and more, people want to talk to the media. And we can now use two or three sources for a story."

Banner photo: Shopkeeper in Myanmar (credit: Kim Nguyen van Zoen/Internews)