Resilience, Women’s Empowerment and Peacebuilding in Myanmar

Christina Bruce Bennion

Professional Follow up visit

Last Fall I had the opportunity to host a YSEALI Professional Fellow from Myanmar: Khin Myo Thu in my hometown of Boise, Idaho. Khin Myo Thu works on women’s empowerment and gender based violence prevention among internally displaced people in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. Boise might not seem like the obvious choice for her fellowship placement, but Idaho has a long tradition of welcoming refugees. As a part of that welcome, many activities such as economic empowerment, women’ empowerment, youth empowerment, education and more take place, similar to those that Khin Myo Thu’s organization provides in Myanmar under the auspices is the Danish Refugee Council. While in Boise, she visited many organizations relevant to her work and created an action plan to implement upon her return.

Now, just a few months later, I find myself in Myanmar visiting her and seeing her work up close. In addition to visiting several other community service organizations working on everything from micro finance to youth empowerment to skill development, I also had the privilege of working directly with Khin Myo Thu and her team of amazing, inspiring young women. We spent several days working on parts of her YSEALI Fellowship action plan: expanding, revising and detailing the curricula for their Women’s Program and developing a new Youth Program. We also spent time on some personal/professional goal development for the staff themselves. They eventually want to develop a youth leadership program and want to bring those goal setting skills to that program. Finally, we also tackled the big question of peace building in a conflict zone with internally displaced people. This topic generated a lot of discussion but we found ways to narrow the concepts a bit so they could work in this context and to weave in other themes from their program.

I have been inspired by their commitment to this challenging and needed work. Despite difficulties with travel to worksites, ongoing conflict flare ups in the region and the fact that they are working with traumatized participants, these women are determined to bring about change. The country is in a period of opening up a bit but faces many challenges. So far I have met several organizations working from the ground up in their communities. Building a tradition of civic engagement and gender equity in a place that has not traditionally had them is no small task, but with continued partnerships through programs like the Mansfield Centers YSEALI Professional Exchange program, these emerging leaders can learn and share ideas and then apply them to their own context in a way that works in Myanmar. I hope to stay in contact with them and provide support as needed moving forward.


Sharing smiles out loud

The majority of refugees in Thailand come from Burma, who predominantly live in refugee camps. There is another group of refugees coming from countries including Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Palestine, Syria, and Somalia that are locatef in Bangkok. According to UNHCR, there are approximately 5000 urban refugees who have sought protection in Bangkok, Thailand as of 2018. Thailand, not a signatory to the UN 1951 Refugee Convention does not have a domestic framework for the protection of refugees in its country. As a result of this missing policy, many urban refugees are systematically detained in Thailand at various Immigration Detention Centers (IDC).

The IDC in Bangkok is located in an unassuming neighborhood of San Plu. I am familiar with a variety of immigration detention centers in the US because I am an immigration lawyer. The IDC was a different experience in several ways. I was fortunate to visit a female detainee who had been in detention since late 2017. She fled her home country of Pakistan due to religious persecution. I was allowed to bring in food for the woman I saw, as detainees are only served a bland cucumber soup and rice on a daily basis. The visitation room is situated in a covered courtyard. I was accompanied by a staff member of Asylum Access Thailand who cautioned me that she hoped I was able to speak loudly. I thought nothing of this and assumed I might be in a room where multiple other visitors would be. What I didn’t know was that I would be in the same courtyard with over 100 people, half detainees and half visitors. We were separated by two chain linked fences that were approximately 4 feet apart from each other. I held a sign up with the name of the female, I will call her B.B. to protect her identity. I waited for B.B. to see her name through the double chain linked fences. Upon finding B.B. I asked her to move towards the end of the fences where fewer people were shouting case updates, health conditions, words of encouragement, prayers, and other "sensitive" information across to one another.

As I smiled at B.B. and she at me, I asked her how she was doing, did she wake up ok, and how her conditions were inside. This woman I was meeting for the first time, has been in detention since the later half of 2017, when her bail was revoked. B.B. had registered with UNHCR in 2015, and fortunately was able to be interviewed in January, 2019 by the US Department of Homeland Security for potential resettlement in the US. B.B. like other urban refugees who are in detention had registered with UNHCR, had a successful refugee determination, and are now waiting for resettlement in other countries like the US.

What puzzled me is why B.B. and others situated like her are being detained by the Thai government while also under the protection of UNHCR. The issue of UN protection of refugees who have been detained in the IDC has become increasingly problematic given the Thai government’s immigration law that allows law enforcement wide discretion for the detention of foreigners. Asylum Access Thailand is advocating for the Thai government to change their policies including, who and when to detain foreigners and alternatives to detention to alleviate the emotional an psychosocial trauma children and mothers face when separated.

While she remains hopeful for resettlement, B.B.’s current reality is that she is still detained with no possibility for release until a decision is made in her case. We shout words of encouragement and gratitude at each other until our voices are hoarse and I say goodbye. I wait on a bench and watch the visitation shouting matches continue. As I sit there I am struck with humility and a sense of gratitude to B.B. and all the other urban refugees who still find space in their hearts to smile as their future release from the IDC is yet to be known.

Atim Otii

Domestic and Sexual Violence Train the Trainers program

By: Brandi Ries

How rewarding it is to be inspired and inspiring at the same moment in time. When traveling to Kalaymyo, Myanmar, I had virtually no idea what to expect. When I arrived I was stunned by the community’s rural setting, while being slightly taken aback by the busyness of the community at the same time.

I knew the purpose in my travels to Kalaymyo was to provide training to the Women’s Justice organization, local civil service organizations, and attorneys and judges in the area, and I was looking forward to leading those discussions. Upon meeting with the YSEALI fellow who is leading this project, I felt satisfied knowing the purpose of the project and that I would be able to use my skills to help meet the fellow’s goals as they relate to expanding awareness of domestic and sexual violence within this community.

Through the YSEALI fellow providing interpretation and translation services, we have now completed the first day of training with the Women’s Justice organization in Kalaymyo. It was awe-inspiring to be a part of a brand new campaign to raise awareness of domestic and sexual violence in a community with extremely limited access to resources. I collaborated with approximately 15 staff members who were eager to build a training curriculum for the organization to use to train others in the future using research-based, best practices. I shared the knowledge that I have acquired from years of representing survivors of violence in the United States—the staff members were engaged, inquisitive and interested. I came here knowing that I would share the knowledge and experience that I have in dealing with domestic and sexual violence. I will leave here inspired by the individuals that I have met doing this work in this rural area who are eager to advocate for and make change to improve the lives of the victims and families that they work with every day.

Delightful Experiences in YSEALI Program

By: Pann Mo Mo Chit

I so satisfy myself to be part of this YSEALI program. The program is numerously fruitful for me more than I expected. Let me share my profoundly personal reflection on this program due all my honesty. Before I joined the program, I had had many tensions and struggles myself because I am uneasy to adapt to new people, new environment and new things. I prepared myself to encounter the challenging situations in my professional learning period in Spokane with a bit worry. I was assigned to be in the World Relief Organization to learn about refugee and immigrant issues. In the office, each of the staffs was busy with their own duties, but they were friendly and contributed their time with us to support our learning opportunities. I did not feel awkward anymore as I imagined, I felt like home again. The experiences I have learned from World Relief were definitely the things I wished to learn. My favorite session was “Refugee Simulation Session” which gave the experience walking in the shoes of a refugee through a language class, medical exam, immigration interview, and camp station. I have known the refugees’ stories, but I was so insecurities during the (15) minute of simulation and recognize vividly the barriers of refugees. That session taught me psychosocial supports were important and should be a priority for refugees. From my (3) weeks in Spokane was super awesome. Because, I got many friends from different organizations, good relation with the host family and could link some networks for my profession. I completely forgot all of my anxieties because I enjoyed my service learning moments in World Relief.

Wonderful experience never forget in my real life

I really appreciate Young South East Asian Leaders Initiative Programs and US department of State, Who hosting me professional host and family host too. I have a chance to meet with Native Indian in my real life and I will never forget this wonderful experience.

I visit Indian reservation at Pablo city, so amazing their building was build like tipping and obviously knew their symbol like eagles with a big eye, beautiful long feather, big bison with horn, deer with horn they hang on the wall. we can see how they respect culture, tradition and ancient house, observed tribal council I learned this native Indian have seven reservation in Montana State and they have self-rule, court system, detention, education system, natural resources, art and culture programs, medical college.

They signed Peace agreement between Native Indian and Federal government. They didn’t say segregation, everybody are satisfied and happy with “We are Americans”

Kind regards,

Thandar Aye

Women for Justice


Family institution is a powerful influence on community

By: Phuangmalay BOUNTOME, YSEALI Professional Fellow in Civic Engagement

If we talk about FAMILY you will think about parents, children and cousins in the family.

If you want to develop community, it’s very important to prioritize family, because family institution is a powerful influence on community.

The family institution is essential for child development, because parents are the first person who closely with children.

You might not know is that reports of abuse and neglect have climbed annually and legal cases filed have nearly quadrupled across Asia in now a day.

If you are the person who has kids and interest of Painting package, let me introduce our mission from Parenting Place to Laos.

The chain of events that flow from child abuse and neglect both the intergenerational effects within families and the ripple effects throughout a community and its service are indisputable. The mission of Parenting Place is to interrupt that transmission. Parenting Place does these way:

Parenting Classes. To teach Nurturing Parenting, a nationwide program that helps parents learn new patterns of childrearing. Those who graduate from our classes gain awareness and skills in (1) nurturing discipline, (2) age-appropriate expectations, (3) empathy, bonding and attachment, as well as (4) self-worth and personal empowerment.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Training. To train professionals who serve in education, law enforcement, healthcare, and social services to help them understand the very harmful impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences upon the neurological development of the young and how to better prevent and mitigate its impacts.

Home Visits. To provide Parent Aides for in home visits with families at risk of child abuse and neglect. As mentors they provide intensive support, information and even model effective parenting, with a focus on child safety, problem solving and social support networks.

Base on the activities above, you could realize why we focus on Parenting Program.

“Communities are no stronger than their families and families are no stronger than their parents “

English Campaign Tag>

01 November 2018: Social justice over domestic violence issue

01 November 2018, two professional fellows from Cambodia and Myanmar had an opportunity to join a training in Polson, Montana. The training was about “Tool for Legal Practitioners to Screen for Domestic Violence” and provided by Rise Law Group, P.C and SAFE Harbor at the Lake County.

Domestic Violence is officially defined as “… a pattern of behavior in which one intimate partner uses physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation or emotional, sexual or economic abuse to control the other partner in the relationship…” Previously, I did not even think that Domestic Violence could be happened in the U.S since I consider this wealthy state has been advanced for everything. However, within my fellowship here, I have been observed and learned from professional host and relevant organizations who specialize on dealing with these issues and I got to know that this issue is often happened in Monatha as well, not only Asian states and Cambodia one. Moreover, I realize that it is even common that women and children are subjected to be survivors of that domestic violence in which attitude and belief system of gender role could not be absolutely changed. In the training, legal practitioners discussed about some legal jurisdictions that some should be considered to be revised in order to support survivors practically rather than it does as well as how attorneys protect themself over this issue and understanding more about the nature of domestic violence for what it relates to power and control of disputant parties.

It is worst noting that most of women become survivor of physical violence sexdual by her husband or partner by using isolation, emotional abuse, coercion and threats and economic abuse and so on. From my point of view, gender inequality is still on top among other issues around the globe in which the world should not ignore it and even take more action in order to eliminate the issues of physical, mental and economic violence on women . It pushes me to work hard on gender issue in my home country. From day to day, I found myself really satisfy to spend my time here for what I have learned a lot from diverse aspects and what is happening in the U.S.A compares to my country and the world.