Obituary: Sam Kalayanee
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Monday, July 23, 2018

Obituary: Sam Kalayanee

By YENI and JEANNE HALLACY Saturday, September 4, 2010

One of the last photographs of Sam, taken in February. (Courtesy Sam Kalayanee Facebook)

In 1988, when thousands of young Burmese student activists arrived at the Thai-Burmese border, many enthusiastic supporters of Burma's democracy movement came to the border to share their lives with the “Student Army,” also known as the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), that was born in the terrain controlled by several ethnic armed groups. Sam Sittipong Kalayanee was one of them. As a former Thai student activist, he supported the struggle for democracy and justice in his neighboring country, and as a photographer, he recorded it for history.

Slide Show (View)
Soon he found himself making the documentary “Barefoot Student Army” (1992) along with two young Melbourne filmmakers who spent a year living among the students and recording their struggle, later producing a stirring short documentary about the human rights abuses on women in Burma in Caught in the Crossfire (1995). He also produced  a documentary about forced labor in Burma, “Road to Nowhere” (1999); a documentary examining the plight of Burmese refugees and displaced persons titled “Living on The Line (2004); a film about child soldiers, “The Invisible Soldiers” (2009); and a documentary about anti-personnel landmines, “Burma's Hidden Killers” (2009).

Most recently Sam co-produced an Oscar-nominated documentary film directed by Anders Østergaard which followed the September 2007 uprising against the Burmese military regime, “Burma VJ” (2009). 

From activist to humanitarian worker to documentary filmmaker, Sam was always passionate about his livelihoods. In 1993, his pioneering vision led to him founding Images Asia –among the first NGOs dedicated to visual documentation of the humanitarian plight of ethnic minorities and democracy activists from Burma.

Images Asia is an alternative media production group involved in documentation, film, video and multi-media productions; and it maintains a library of video footage and photographs from not only Burma, but also throughout Southeast Asia.

In its early years, Images Asia was one of the staple locations where journalists, visiting scholars and international relief agencies could turn for compelling visual material, testimonies and evidence of the ongoing political crisis affecting both Burma and Thailand.
Known to many as “P’ Sam,” he had a profound understanding of the importance of such imagery –and he and his organization set out to recreate it as history. Tens of thousands of photographs, video clips, interviews with refugees and members of the ABSDF student army and ethnic leaders are part of this remarkable repository of Burma’s contemporary political history.

Yet Sam’s definition of “the border” was not defined by the more narrow scope of access from Thailand. He traveled to remote areas inside Shan State, Kachin State and Burma’s western border including Nagaland as a seeker of truth, as an eyewitness and a tireless advocate for the millions of ethnic people in Burma devastated by militarization, displacement and conflict. Ethnic leaders from the Shan, Karen, Kachin and Mon knew of his dedication to document and disseminate information about their plight. The Burmese student movement viewed him as their “Ako”—their elder brother.

Recently, Sam foraged through his archive of old slides and black and white photos to post an amazing array of photographs of the ABSDF’s seminal beginnings—a snapshot of history spanning 20 years. The response to these images on Facebook was overwhelming—as leaders who remain in Thailand and others who are now abroad perhaps silently shed tears as they viewed photos of young idealists intent on changing military dictatorship in Burma and quickly returning home. “The intention of posting these photos is to share the hardship in the past of the students and bravery of young hearts that sacrificed their lives for the the country,” Sam wrote on his Facebook.

Sam was unquestionably one of very few Thai experts on Burma’s complex ethnic strife, human rights abuses and culture.

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Birm Wrote:
Rest in peace, Ai Sam. You and your courage will always be in my mind.

Brenda Belak Wrote:
Dear friends at Irrawaddy,
I was shocked and saddened to hear of Sam's death yesterday. Not being in Chiang Mai, I hadn't even known he was sick.  I searched the internet repeatedly to find out how he'd died and eventually stumbled upon his Facebook "Support" page.  But in the meantime, many scenarios were running through my mind. 
I'm sure you know that Jeannie and Yeni's obit was reposted on Teak Door, an online forum.  One of the comments asked the question, "How did he die?" I realize that this can be a personal thing, and perhaps Sam didn't want people to know that he had cancer, but it's a natural question. I also felt there was a puzzling gap in the obit. Of course, you may have reasons for doing it the way you did, but I'd suggest adding an editorial line at the end to indicate that he died of cancer. 
Sam was so young, it is still hard to believe that he's gone.  He accomplished a lot in a relatively short time, and your obit does justice to that. 
Best wishes,

Budi Wrote:
I am deeply sad with the news and I still remember him well in the journey we made between Chiang Mai and Manerplaw in early 1994. Rest in peace, Sam.

Free Man Wrote:
I pay tribute to Sam Kalayanee.

Jane Ferguson Wrote:
P'Sam was an amazingly astute documentarian, researcher and most of all, a very dear older brother. I'm deeply saddened that he is gone far too soon, but know that the world is a better place because he was here. Rest in peace, P'Sam (we'll keep Beer Chang cold for you).

ryan libre Wrote:
Wish i would have got to meet him. How did he die?

Ted Wrote:
I am not sure if we will have one more Thai person like Pi Sam.

Jeremy Colson Wrote:
What a great obituary, testament to a useful life in a good cause.

Kyaw Wrote:
I pray for Sam Kalayanee to be in heaven with eternal peace.
It is big loss for all Burmese.
He shall be remembered by all Burmese who are struggling for democracy.

Kyi May Kaung Wrote:
Sad. Too young to die.

A very great loss, but here was one human being who truly cared and made a difference.

Thank you Yeni and Jeanne for writing this.

Kyi May Kaung.

Than Naing Wrote:
In ABSDF for Nine years.
I knew him. I support this story.

Hlaing Bwa Maung Wrote:
I am surprised and really shocked when I heard P sam's pass away news. I can not believe for that news.
I can not accept reallity. will always be remembered - so much history there - Thanks for what you have done as a part of histor...y in our ABSDF (Student Army) and 8888 Generation's of Burma for Democracy movements. But you are with alot of great friends and comrades up there!

We will never forget what you are and what you have done with us for Democracy movement of Burma.
you also left with us a lot of ABSDF's remarkable memory photos on facebook.
We will tell our new generations about you
My condolence to you.
But... Sam you leave us so so early.

Saw Ehdoh Wrote:
I would like to express my sincere condolences on the recent passing of Sam Kalayanee. He was wonderful person to work with and always happy to help us anytime.

He became my good friend in 2004 when I was documenting my 2nd film. We always contact through phone when we need help on each other. I was calling him 3 days before I heard the news from Pim Koesawan.

I was shocked when I got phone message from Nong Pim on Friday at 5:10PM. I can't believe what happened to him.

It was really big big big loss!
Pi Sam, we will missing you always and promising you to continue on your belief.
Kaung Yar Thu Ga Tit Lar Par Say!

B T win Wrote:
EWOB/AEIOU tender their deep sympathy to the remaining family of Sam Kalayani who has been our coworker since 1988. We also thank Irrawaddy for sharing this news to the world.

Prof. Win and Dr Rosy

timothy Wrote:
I never knew P Sam but when I read this script, the sense of honour for a simple human, a feeling of great loss, and my thought and prayer go to the family and friends.The whole Burma who had been at the receiving ends of human touch of this great person will miss him. May he rest in peace and eternal heaven.

Garrett Kostin Wrote:
A true tragedy. Sam was, as this article mentions, extraordinarily generous with his knowledge and work. He donated copies of most of his films to The Best Friend Library in Chiang Mai when I visited him just a few months ago. I was planning to see him again in a few weeks. I'm shocked and saddened at his unexpected passing. His work will live on, educating and enlightening others about the struggle for peace, freedom, and democracy in Burma!

Rob Wrote:
May the passing of Sam assist others in maintaining the work needed to overcome so much injustice, especially since 1988 and 2007.
Thoughts go out to those still in Burma and those people now trying to settle in Thailand and other nearby countries. It is hoped the UN notes this time and is concerned enough to intervene more purposefully for the benefit of Burmese citizens and refugees.

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