As a girl, Ma Thuzar Went Lewin was watching the Miss Universe contest and wishing she was on stage representing her country, Myanmar. She entered her first two competitions last year, nervous and excited about what to expect. But in the end, she was crowned Miss Universe in Myanmar, and this week she is competing in the Miss World contest in Florida.
But now representing her country has a new meaning. With The army seizes power in a coup d’état 1 February And the Hundreds of protesters were killed, It hopes to use its platform to draw attention to it The pro-democracy movement in Myanmar And appeal for international assistance in the release of the elected leaders who were arrested.
“They are killing our people like animals,” she said in an interview before leaving Myanmar to participate in the competition. “Where is humanity? Please help us. We are helpless here.”
In a dramatic moment on Thursday during the National Competition Fashion Show, she walked to the front of the stage and A banner reading “Pray for Myanmar” is raised. The final competition will take place on Sunday.
The military seizure of power in Myanmar sparked widespread protests as millions took to the streets, a civil disobedience movement and a general strike that shut down the economy largely. The Tatmadaw, as the military knows, has it It responded with brutal suppressionThis resulted in the deaths of more than 780 people and the detention of more than 3,900, according to a human rights group that tracks political prisoners.
In the early weeks of the protest movement, Ms. Thuzar Went Lewin, 22, joined the demonstrations, holding up banners with slogans like “We don’t want a military government” and calling for the country’s civilian leader, Dow, to be released. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was Under house arrest since the coup.
She distributed bottles of water to protesters in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and donated her savings to the families whose loved ones were killed. She also expressed her opposition to the military council on Facebook, and published it Black and white photos of her She was blindfolded, with tape over her mouth, and her hands were tied.
She said the military offensive made the country live in fear.
“Soldiers patrol the city every day and sometimes set up roadblocks to harass incoming people,” said Ms. Thuzar Wint Lewin, who goes by the name Kandy. In some cases they shoot without hesitation. We are afraid of our soldiers. Whenever we see one, all we feel is anger and fear. “
Every evening, the army announces new arrest warrants for celebrities and others who have criticized the regime on television. Some of those named were people identified by Mrs. Thuzar Went Lewin.
Before leaving for the United States, she watched anxiously to see if her name had ended up on the Army’s most wanted list. She saw reports of known people being arrested while trying to leave the country, so she decided to wear a hoodie and glasses to avoid being recognized at Yangon Airport. “I had to go through the immigration department and I was so scared,” she said in an interview from Florida.
In criticizing the military junta from outside her country, Miss Myanmar is not alone.
U Win Htet Oo, one of the nation’s top swimmers, is from Australia, said it is Abandoning his dream of going to the Olympiad And they will not compete under the Myanmar flag until the regime’s leader, The Grand General. Main Aung Healing, He was removed from power. And mixed martial arts fighter U Aung La Nsang, an American citizen and one of Myanmar’s most famous athletes, has President Biden urged help Ending the suffering of the people of Myanmar.
Ms Thuzar Wint Lewin says she believes it will not be safe for her to return to Myanmar after speaking out against the regime; She does not know where to go after the competition ends.
Majoring in English at East Yangon University, its way back into the pro-democracy movement may be traced back to its childhood. I grew up in a middle-class family. Like many parents, her father, a businessman, and her mother, a homemaker, did not dare discuss the military government that was at the time in power.
One of her early memories was walking with her mother near Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon in 2007, when monks led nationwide protests against the military rule. She was seven years old. When they approached the temple, the soldiers broke up the protest by firing their rifles in the air. People started running. She and her mom ran, too.
“We were so scared,” she recalls. “We went to a stranger’s house and were hiding.”
Soon after, the army crushed that protest movement by shooting dozens of people. But by 2011, the army Power-sharing began with civilian leaders And the opening of the country, allowing cell phones and access to the Internet at affordable prices, to the rush.
Mrs. Thuzar Went Lewin is part of the first generation in Myanmar who has grown up completely in contact with the outside world, and for whom a free society seemed a normal thing. In 2015, the country Sitting democratically elected For the first time in more than half a century. “We have been living in freedom for five years,” she said. “Don’t take us back. We know everything about the world. We have the internet.”
November was the first time she was old enough to vote, and she cast her ballot in the National League for Democracy party, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, which won an overwhelming majority only to have the military upset the results by seizing power.
Before the coup, Mrs. Thuzar Went Lewin’s biggest ordeal came when she was 19 and she underwent surgery to remove the precancerous tumors from each breast, leaving permanent scars. She decided not to undergo laser therapy to improve her appearance as a reminder of her success in preventing cancer.
And she wrote, “It’s just a scar and I still am.” In a recent post With pictures of scars. “I met my self-acceptance realizing that nothing had changed who I was and the values I set for myself. Now, when I see those scars, I feel empowered.”
She began modeling when she was in high school, and after her father’s retirement, she helped support the family. She is one of fewer than a dozen contestants from Myanmar who competed in the Miss Universe contest, which was established in 1952. During the period from 1962 to 2011, when the Tatmadaw first ruled, Myanmar did not send any contestants at all.
When Mrs. Thuzar Wint Lewin arrived in Florida on May 7, she was told that a suitcase with her competition outfits had been lost by the airline. Most of the contestants had already arrived and were busy rehearsing, shooting videos and taking pictures. As the week passed, the bag had not arrived, but the pageant organizers were helping her with her dress, and the other contestants would lend her her clothes.
Her national costume was among the missing. Myanmar people living in the US offered her an amazing alternative to Ethnic Chin Origin. She wore it on Thursday to the applause of many in the crowd.
Shortly after landing in Florida, she posted a A video of his biography on Facebook That would be unusual for any beauty pageant contestant: it shows her in a formal gown mixed with scenes of people fleeing tear gas and a soldier shooting a man who was passing by on a motorcycle.
“Myanmar deserves democracy,” she says in the video. “We will continue to fight and I also hope the international community will provide us with the help we desperately need.”