In the wake of the ruling junta's efforts to waylay foreign aid following May's Cyclone Nargis, Burmese citizens—including former political prisoners—created a grass-roots relief effort to help the embattled populace. In doing so, writes George Packer in the New Yorker, they may have created the catalyst for long-awaited political change in a once-prosperous nation impoverished by its military rulers.
“Regime change can happen in many ways besides mass revolution,” one dissident tells Packer. Despite the junta's crackdown on the humanitarian efforts of its own people, and its brutal quelling of last year's demonstrations led by monks, Burmese relief workers "have become a movement," says a local journalist. "They've become like activists." Adds another former political prisoner: "When I was younger I hoped for outside help to come to our country and liberate it. Now I realize that we have to rely on ourselves."