14-year-old refugee sings for Myanmar spring
Former TV audition show contestant who sang in memory of her father, now shares hope and support for people in Myanmar
Published : May 17, 2021 - 15:45
Updated : May 17, 2021 - 15:46
Wanyiwah Phondphaothanandon poses at the recording studio for “The Spring of Myanmar.” (Woo Duk-myoung)
Wanyiwah Phondphaothanandon, one of Myanmar’s Karen ethnic minority, paid tribute to democracy and peace in Myanmar through a song, “The Spring of Myanmar.”

The 14-year-old is a refugee in Korea with her mother and two younger brothers. Phondphaothanandon, who uses Wanyiwah as her stage name, attends a boarding school in Yongin, focusing on her studies and exams just like any teenager, but apart from the daily routine, she shares the pain and sorrow of the current situation in Myanmar.

Since the six-minute music video was released on May 15 through a YouTube channel, “Pulpiri Project (Grass Flute Project),” the song has rapidly gone viral around the world, recording over 17,000 views so far.

Composed by singer-songwriter Woo Ju-myung, who is also a music director, the song was performed by some 40 Korean amateur and professional musicians to express support for citizens of Myanmar.

“Last year, when she appeared as a contestant for a music show program, I came across her life story living as a refugee here (in Korea), and her father’s sudden death. Since then, Wanyiwah felt to me like one of my granddaughters, and I have always rooted her on her life’s journey.” Woo told The Korea Herald.

Sharing his experience during the shooting of the music video for the song, Woo said, “In the intro scene, you see a metal tree with thousands of little bells. ... That location was Icheon’s Seolbong Park. It was a windy day, and the place felt as if the bells were crying, wishing for peace in Myanmar. At the scene, Wanyiwah burst into tears.”

Watching her cry from her far, he said he felt her warmth and strength at the same time. He felt that Wanyiwah was already a mature singer who knew what she was doing, the minute she entered the studio to record the piece.
Captured and edited from the music video, “The Spring of Myanmar.” See on the left is Seolbong Park’s metal tree with bells. (YouTube Channel “Grass Flute Project”)
Lee Kyung-ja, who serves as head judge of Incheon’s regional singing competition for foreigners, met Wanyiwah some 5 years ago. Upon hearing her voice for the first time at the competition, she volunteered to be her music teacher and mentor, to help her fulfill her dreams as a singer. Since Wanyiwah’s mother was not familiar with Korean culture at the time, Lee also helped Wanyiwah and her family adjust to living in Korea.

“Although Wanyiwah did not experience any of the history of Myanmar herself, her mom often tells her about the family’s ethnic roots, and how she went through similar pain living in Myanmar,” Lee said in a phone call with The Korea Herald.

“It’s not the political issue that matters to the girl. Rather, the tribute song was for her relatives and families’ safety. Wanyiwah has been asking her mom how her relatives are doing, ever since she heard about the coup. I believe that her kind heart and innocence are sent through her voice in this song.” Lee added.

Wanyiwah’s second tribute song, “Everything will be OK,” is expected to be released as a music video on the YouTube channel by the end of May. Also directed by Woo, the song is in memory of Kyal Sin, a 19-year-old who died at an anti-coup protest site in March.

By Kim Hae-yeon (hykim@heraldcorp.com)