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Founder of The Myanmar Storytellers, Thant Zin Soe, speaks to DVB about how he is using the art of storytelling to convey important social justice issues through entertaining performances in orphanages and schools across Burma.
Question: How did Myanmar Story Tellers originate?
Answer: We started a very small organisation in 2009 and at that time I was a university student and one of the members of the underground student movement. Some of my friends were students from the University of Culture and others were volunteers. We met artists from Thailand and around the world who were storytellers and at that time we thought we could use storytelling as a tool to spread social messages.
Q: How many members make up The Myanmar Story Tellers?
A: We have around 30 members and all are volunteers. Even we, the founders, are also volunteers. Most of us are based in Rangoon but there are also volunteers in the countryside.
Q: What type of stories do you tell?
A: The stories are active and convey social messages like peace, diversity and environmental knowledge.
Q: And are the stories you tell inspired by news or social events?
A: The stories are from Buddhist teachings and other religious teachings. The stories are also taken from contemporary literature and also from Burmese local traditional folklore. We also find stories from around the world. For example, it’s not just from books, we also use the Internet and find stories from Africa, Latin America, China, India and then we choose the most interesting stories and form a collection to adapt to Burmese culture and then we perform these stories for different audiences.
Q: Where do you tell the stories?
A: Normally every week we go to different schools and orphanages and on the weekends we go to monastery schools. We tell stories to orphans as they don’t get the chance sometimes to hear entertaining stories that are also educational at the same time.
Q: What is your goal for the future of The Myanmar Story Tellers?
A: To keep telling stories for different people and to conserve stories of our culture. We believe that storytelling is the best tool of communication, teaching and learning. And we believe the power of storytelling won’t change. When we start spreading messages through storytelling, it becomes knowledge and goes straight to people’s brain and also to the heart.
Q: How do you tell these stories? Do you act them out?
A: Every story is different. We use music, we dance, we use sound techniques and perhaps the most important thing is we use critical thinking to convey these stories and we get audiences to ask questions. We tell these stories in an entertaining way so that children can learn that learning is fun and make improvements in my country.
Q: How will you spend the money you received from the Citizen of Burma award?
A: The first plan is we will go to Arakan State and we will build water wells to help the communities in need.