May 29, 2006

The Klo & the Nine Stars

The KSNG: The Klo and the Nine Stars

Saw Kapi

Almost ten years ago, with the birth of KSNG – Karen Students' Network Group - a new chapter of Karen political activism was born, afresh, bright and hopeful. No one knew what it means because it was not a union, nor was it an organization. "What does 'network group' mean?" questioned a well-meaning schoolteacher. Everyone wanted to know what are the aims, the goals and the meaning of KSNG, to be more specific; people were interested in why the KSNG was formed in the fist place.

Never before in the history of Karen resistance movement and certainly not until 1996 that the Karen students were able to organize in the scale of a united movement as a well-informed and active segment of Karen society, either in the political realm or in the discourse of national progress. Before then, all we were familiar with, in addition to the mother organization KNU, was the KYO – Karen Youth Organization, and to a lesser extent, the KWO – Karen Women Organization. But a group of young, energetic and far-sighted Karen students (for lack of a better term, let's continue to use "student") started to put together a new publication called the Students' Friend Magazine. They are, let me mention their names here for the record, Saw Doh Moh (now in Thailand), Saw Eh Wah (now Texas, USA) and Saw Law Plah (currently in Thailand). It was this Students' Friend Magazine that provided us a media platform to generate discussion about the critical need to have a free, progressive Karen student movement.

So, the Karen Student Network Group (KSNG) was formed in December 1996 after a meeting at Maela Mission High School in Maela Refugee Camp. The meeting was well attended by many Karen student activists from inside as well as outside of the refugee camps. The purpose was not only to generate social, political and cultural awareness among the Karen students but also to serve, most importantly, as a preparatory stage on which necessary political and organizational skills and expertise can be crafted so that a homegrown national leadership of the future Karen generation may be developed.

Only a few months after its formation, the KSNG made its first political debut by releasing a press statement condemning the attacks by the Burmese military-backed armed elements on Huaykaloke Refugee Camp. The KSNG mobilized students in the camp to express their opinions and concerns over the situation to the world. Signs and slogans with the signature – Klo & the nine stars – were posted through out the camp. The Nation newspaper of Thailand later picked up one of the KSNG posters and quoted "Klo & the nine stars" in its story about the plight of Karen refugees.

There is no doubt that the KSNG has overcome many organizational hurdles and circumstantial obstacles over the past ten years. The political pressure that it had to face in the early years was enormous, partly because our society – and perhaps our leadership back then – was not familiar with the concept of political pluralism. But, looking back ten years the many accomplishments of KSNG over a period of one decade are extraordinarily impressive. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the formation of KSNG, there are hopes and wishes that the KSNG as an organization continues to play its role as a free, thoughtful and progressive entity; that it continues to serve as a multi-purpose political platform for the entire Karen student community. May the Klo continue to pass on its analytical voice freely; may the Nine Stars continue to shine progressively.

(The author would like to clarify that he only participated and helped in the formation of KSNG, but he was never a full-fledge member of the organization. Naw May Oo did not participate in the first meeting that decided to form KSNG in 1996 but she later joined the group and, together with many of us, actively advocated for the broader role of KSNG in Karen politics. Naw Sharlu was one of those who took part in the first meeting to establish KSNG.)

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