Almost 70 years of war have marked the state of Karen in Myanmar. The sustained insecurity and violence weaken the health and will to live of women. Through sport and play, they regain their confidence in themselves and in the future.

Ongoing violence – systematic torture, rape and forced labour – have particularly affected women in Karen, Myanmar. The war for autonomy in south-eastern Myanmar is one of the longest civil wars anywhere. Since independence in 1948, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to other parts of the country or to neighbouring Thailand. The conflict has left deep marks in the civilian population, with women bearing the brunt. Their mental and physical health is not only affected by the behaviour of the armed forces but also by domestic violence. Particularly young people see no opportunities and see themselves as a “lost generation”.

The Double Effect of Sport and Play

Moving Beyond Trauma, a joint initiative of SAD and the local Karen Women Empowerment Group (KWEG), focuses on young women between the ages of 12 and 18. The project uses sport and play in two ways – on the one hand, group activities and traditional dance motivate the women to interact with likeminded people. On the other hand, sport empowers the young women. Experiences of violence often reduce people’s confidence in their ability to deal with difficult situations. Through sport and play – in a safe environment with clear rules – the women can regain this basic trust in their own abilities. They learn to cope with the consequences of their trauma, thereby regaining some normality in their lives.

The local specialists also support the young women with individual, family or group therapy, and with legal advice. Additionally, participants have the possibility of participating in savings and credit groups. With microcredit, they can develop their own small business thereby improving their income.

Transfer of Knowledge – Not an End in Itself

SAD provides the local coaches with the tools to carefully guide the women. In close cooperation with KWEG, SAD has developed a handbook for the coaches to use as exercise guidelines and for reference. It explains how to create an environment that feels safe and how to use sport and play to encourage people as they work through experiences.
SAD focuses on participation in its work with KWEG. In a planning workshop, everybody agreed on the aims of the project and the mechanisms for data collection together. This means measures can be evaluated continually and adapted as necessary. SAD has provided KWEG with the necessary know-how for this. The transfer of knowledge is not an end in itself – the aim is for local organisation KWEG to continue to support young women once the project is finished.