Credo: Zoya Phan

Burmese human-rights activist, 28

I believe...

Last year's cyclone [on May 2] was an opportunity for the ruling dictatorship to further its aims of ethnic cleansing. The military failed to warn people about the cyclone, it failed to provide aid and it blocked international aid to the victims in the delta.

I want the world to know and help us. I've written Little Daughter to tell the world my story: growing up under a dictatorship, having to flee home at 14 and become a refugee, my people raped and shot [Phan's father, a political activist, was assassinated], our culture destroyed, and the homes of the Karen [ethnic minority] shattered.

I am lucky; many Karen have spent their lives in refugee camps, many have died through lack of medication and nutrition. Although I was forced to flee twice from military attacks and ended up in the camps, I got the opportunity to have an education [through a scholarship to study in the UK].

My mother is my hero. She was a Karen freedom fighter, so she knew how to look after us. I was 14 when the military attacked my village and I was so afraid; we had to hide in the jungle for more than a month.

Moving to the UK [where Phan gained asylum] was very difficult at first. There were so many little things I had to learn, such as operating a washing machine. I remember clicking any button that seemed right, and after an hour my clothes had become babies' clothes. I was so upset.

London is by far the most tolerant and diverse city in the world. I've travelled to a lot of places as international co-ordinator of Burma Campaign UK, but when I first arrived here, I discovered people from so many different countries living in peace, and it felt very welcoming.

I miss the river, the trees, the butterflies, the mountains. The Karen state is one of the most beautiful places in the world; we call it "Kawthoolei", a land without evil. But what's happening with the dictatorship is in terrible contrast to all that.

'Little Daughter', by Zoya Phan, is published by Simon & Schuster at £15.99

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