FORT WAYNE — Eight-year-old Peace Soe of Fort Wayne was wondering whether the bird she was pasting onto a bright-red scrap of rectangular cloth was a peacock or a phoenix.
Sitting next to her, her older brother, Kaing, 10, was pretty sure it was a peacock.
“I think it’s a phoenix,” she says. “It’s like burning!”
The little girl was wrong – the bird indeed represents a peacock – the “fighting peacock” on the flag of the democracy movement in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
But a phoenix, the mythical bird known for rising from its own ashes, would be a fitting symbol, too. That’s according to parents of the more than 40 children who spent part of Saturday morning at IPFW making the bird-bearing flags to prepare for the Sept. 25 visit of Aung San Suu Kyi to Fort Wayne.
That the famed pro-democracy leader, who spent 15 years under house arrest for her political activity, is now able to travel freely to the United States means her homeland is emerging from decades of oppression and taking a new place in the world, says Myo Oak, 34, of Fort Wayne.
Speaking through a translator, Kyaw “Joe” Soe Oak, a father of two sons, said Burma is a small country, and its struggles might not seem important to the rest of the world.
But Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has earned such respect that she is listened to wherever she goes, Oak said.
“When she comes here, to a big country, she talks to the leaders and they cooperate with her. That is something I am very proud of,” he said, adding he hopes the flags will encourage her.
“Not only people from Burma love her. People here love her,” he said
Mariam Aung, 32, of Fort Wayne, a mother of three children, says it’s important for her children to understand the history of their parents’ homeland.
“I am very happy. Excited,” she said. “I want my kids to learn who she is. It’s very important. I explain to my kids, but I want them to see her.
“Me too,” she adds. “I never see her.”
Soe says the children who made the flags of the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi’s political organization, attend IPFW’s New Immigrant Literacy Program.
The 10-year-old program, which Soe founded and directs, sponsors Saturday morning classes designed to improve refugee children’s English fluency and school performance.
Children were assisted by volunteers, many of whom were students in IPFWl’s education department.
Soe said he met Suu Kyi 24 years ago at her home in what was then called Rangoon when he was a student leader in the democracy movement.
“Since I met her, I admire her. I do many things for her. I organized rallies, protests, candlelight vigils. … I wrote letters (to American officials). I went to New York to the U.N. to demonstrate for her release.”
Soe said “easily 10,000” people will attend her appearance. Census and community estimates place the refugee population in the Fort Wayne area between 4,000 and 6,000, but he said he expects many American admirers will also attend.
“This is a history-making event,” he said.