24 Facts the World Should Know About Burma

Around 78% of the population of Burma identifies as Buddhist and 7% are Catholic.

A group of young “e’er-do-wells” from Burma
A group of young “e’er-do-wells” from Burma (photo: National Catholic Register)

Burma is named after the Burmans ― the majority ethnicity in their nation. However, there are 146 other ethnicities with whom they live. The Burmese overthrew their socialist dictatorship 10 years ago, though the military had maintained a menacing éminence grise in their parliament because their Constitution reserves a full 25% of its seats for military officers. On Feb. 2, they returned to subjugate the population just as they had twice before. The last time they gave up power was in 2010. Burma has made great strides to enter the modern community of nations in the past 10 years. The socialist junta desire nothing more than to dismantle all of the progress they’ve made thus far.

It’s a sort of communist Groundhog Day. A nightmare from which it’s difficult to wake.

As I write this, I sit 2 miles from the front line which divides nonviolent demonstrators and the armed forces that hope to subjugate them. Recently, the army shot an unarmed 14-year-old in the head. I was shocked to witness it, and felt a dizzying nausea overwhelm me. Pray for the people of Burma.

Some more facts you should know about Burma:

1. It’s the second largest producer of opium ― 25% of the world’s opium can be traced back to its Golden Triangle which it shares with Laos and Thailand.

2. It’s also one of the world’s largest producers of methamphetamines. It also traffics in methamphetamines stamped with the label “Made in China.”

3. The nation is a major human trafficking throughfare for “brides” (a reprehensible euphemism) sold to lonely Chinese businessmen.

4. Burma is home to the world’s longest civil war ― nearly 75 years in the making.

5. There are currently 13 insurgencies throughout the country, all of which have been fighting for at least 60 years ,including the infamous Rohingya attacks.

6. Burma is home to 146 ethnicities other than the Burmans ― the ethnicity after whom the country is named. The latter make up about 57% of the population. 

7. Burma and Laos are the two poorest nations in Southeast Asia.

8. Myanmar has been embroiled in ethnic conflict for most of the years following its independence from Britain in 1948. 

9. HIV/AIDS is rampant in Burma. The NIH estimates there are 687,000 cases currently in Burma, mostly due to intravenous heroin use.

10. Alcoholism is rampant, as is addiction to marijuana.

11. Myanmar’s military dictatorship, which began in 1962, was officially dissolved in 2010, but still wields enormous power. Christian-majority ethnic groups have been targeted for abuse. More than 3,000 Christian villages were destroyed within a 10-year span. But despite the xenophobic nationalists’ efforts to destroy Christianity, it continues to grow.

12. The Burmese majority comprises 57% of Myanmar’s population.

13. Around 78% of the population identifies as Buddhist and 7% are Catholic. Generally, the Burmese are very kindly disposed to Catholics, but not so much to Protestants.

14. All foreign missionaries were expelled from Myanmar in 1966 requiring that missionaries relinquish their properties to the socialist regime without compensation. For example, all 400 Catholic Church schools in Burma were nationalized.

15. Before the first socialist junta, the Burmese were the best-educated people in Southeast Asia.

16. Theravada Buddhism is the most prevalent form of Buddhism in Myanmar

17. The native religion, which predates Buddhism, centers around appeasing nats(ghosts) — 38 indoor nats and 38 outdoor ones — who are believed to protect (or harass) those who believe in them.

18. Christian missionaries brought the concept of social justice to the nation. Buddhist temples have only recently started to care for the poor who live near them in the past 10 years. They’ve also started temple schools, which are generally better than the secular ones.

19. Before the communist regime that was installed in 1988, the Catholic Church operated nearly 400 schools throughout the country.

20. Before 1888, the Catholic Church operated thousands of clinics and hospitals. Currently, only a single one remains and it was built in 2013. It also has a dental office managed by a priest who is also a trained dentist.

21. The Catholic Church currently operates hundreds of orphanages which teach living and professional skills to their charges including baking, car repair, computer office skills and nursing.

22. The nation has a large number of “barefoot doctors” who operate with minimal training but otherwise serve populations that don’t have access to real doctors with real medicine.

23. Protestants and Catholics have built thousands of orphanages and tutoring centers — but they’re still forbidden to build schools even after all this time.

24. The people of Burma are extraordinarily kind and generous despite that fact that they have nothing. I’m grateful for their acceptance and their care. When the bullets started flying, my friends dragged me to their homes through the live fire and the obstacles that the protestors had set up the evening before. I have witnessed great atrocities by the junta and remarkable humanitarianism here from these greatly oppressed and dignified people.