Education: The Foundation for a Successful Democracy in Burma
Social Justice Issues:
Since the 1962 military coup led by General Ne Win citizens of Burma have suffered greatly as the country perished; human rights abuses widespread, ethnic minorities targeted, education falling by the wayside and hundreds of thousands fleeing the country. The military junta had gripping control over all Burmese affairs until 2011, when the new government under Thein Sein took power. Since 2011, Burmese citizens have experienced a greater degree of freedom than ever before. However, at this time Burma is by no means a full-fledged democracy. The country stands at a crossroads, in a time of transition and hopeful recovery.
One aspect of Burma that was especially impacted was the education system. According to data compiled by the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, Burma ranks 164th, out of 168 countries, for public expenditure on education, spending just 1.3% of its GDP on education. In the past, education was inaccessible and unavailable to most Burmese, especially impacting ethnic minorities. The higher education system was essentially gutted, with many university campuses abandoned like ghost towns.
As Aung San Suu Kyi said in her speech at AU, education is what Burma needs most. Education is the foundation for a successful country. There have been glimpses of hope for improvement, such as education spending being upped to 5% of the national GDP. Burmese, and those who have experienced this time of transition inside Burma, have said that while there is much work to be done, and reform is slow, they are hopeful that this could be the light at the end of the tunnel.
This trip will focus on education as a platform for social empowerment, and how certain organizations are using increased freedoms from the democratic reforms within the country to further improve the education system of Burma. Our main goal will be to learn from non-governmental (NGO) and community-based organizations (CBO) that work to promote education goals through grassroots-level empowerment programs.
The trip will engage with many local NGOs and CBOs, participate in service learning projects and experience Burmese life both in refugee settlements in Thailand and inside Burma. Students will gain first-hand knowledge of the challenges and successes of Burma’s education system while living alongside and working with the Burmese people. When students return to the US, the will have options to be involved with advocacy groups surrounding Burma, such as the AU chapter of the US Campaign for Burma. This Alternative Break continues a long history of Burmese democracy activism at American University, including the founding of the US Campaign for Burma by an AU alum.
About the Student Trip Leaders:
Kate Younkin is a junior majoring in International Studies and minoring in International Business and Spanish. She has participated in the 2011-2012 Thai/Burma Border Alternative Break and been involved with the Alt Breaks program since she returned as well as the social justice themes surrounding Burma.
Rianna Eckel is a junior double majoring in International Studies and Environmental Studies. She has been involved with the Alt Breaks program since her freshman year, as a participant on the summer 2012 trip to North India, as well as leading the summer 2013 trip to North India. Rianna also spent a year living in Thailand in high school.
Sample Itinerary (Subject to Change)
Fly to Bangkok, connecting flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand
Travel to Mae Sot, Thailand
Meet with Community Development & Civic Empowerment Program, CDCEP
CDCEP utilizes a bottom-up approach of empowering local communities through education. It is important to understand the approach of local NGOs, programs, and projects in the community we hope to work with in solidarity.
Meet with Best Friends Library
Best Friends Library will help participants understand the need for education and learning both within Burma and on the border. They will be able to understand the affects the military regime had on the two founding monks and how their library stemmed from those experiences.
Mae Sot, Thailand
Meet with TYSO, potential community project
TYSO is a group of vibrant youth that are engaged in their community. Their mission is to engage the Ta’ang people and work for justice, peace and equality. TYSO works with students and hope to increase the number of youth who can participate as leaders.
Bus to back to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Meet with EarthRights International
ERI is an NGO trains grassroots and community leaders and spearheads advocacy campaigns. They seek to end earth rights abuses from a bottom up strategy. ERI has had a longstanding relationship with AU and Alternative Breaks. They have training sessions that educate and engage local community members on the environment.
Celebrate the New Year with floating sky lanterns
Flexible day to work with a partner organization
Travel to Burma (fly from Chiang Mai to Yangoon)
Days 8, 9, 10
New Education Highway Partnership meeting and project. Opening a youth center, multi-day project
NEH envisions a world in which all people, including minority groups, have access to an open, quality education. The co-founders have opened three education centers within Burma and have expressed interest in collaborating with AU to open another.
Days 11, 12
Meet and collaborate with IAPP
Partner universities will help design initiatives to help high education contemporaries in Burma. Subjects will include faculty and curricular development, student learning, quality assurance and other areas. IAPP will allow for participants to see higher education initiatives taking place within the country. Contributing or meeting with IAPP on the ground will strengthen relations AU already has with the program.
Continue working with educational organizations.
Final reflection and action planning for post-trip activism
Fly to Chiang Mai and depart for US same day.
Arrive in US