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.