Burmese Young Leaders Have Message for Washington: Htet Htet Oo
There is so much opportunity in Burma and Asia, unfortunately China, North Korea, and other challenges in the region threaten stability and stifle the spirit of human freedom. To help counter these challenges, the United States must engage with this region, cultivate partnerships, and champion the fundamental rights of people across Asia.
With this in mind, a select group of Burmese Young Leader graduates from the Liberty and Leadership Forum were in Washington, D.C. meeting with policy makers and thought leaders. In a series of articles, they have outlined Burma’s greatest challenges and the need for U.S. leadership in Asia.
Htet Htet Oo, a UN public information officer who volunteers to help lift children out of poverty, is the first in a series of Q&A’s with the Bush Institute’s Young Leaders.
What are Burma’s three biggest challenges in expanding opportunity for young Burmese living in poverty?
One of the biggest challenges is the education system. Though primary education is compulsory and the government said it is free, on the ground there are a lot families who cannot afford to send their children to school. Burma's educational system is not helping children develop critical thinking skills and other skills that young people need to apply in their jobs.
Despite graduating from a university, a lot of young people do not have the necessary skills to succeed. There are very few government-funded vocational programs for young people and children who are not able to continue their education. For vocational programs that do exist, requirements for enrollment make it impossible for young people who live in desperate poverty and who really need the opportunity to join. Finally, the lack of laws that safeguard the rights of young people and protect them is a problem. Young people in Burma are working very long hours and in unsafe environments. There is exploitation from employers and there are also trafficking issues for migrant workers. The government must enforce laws to protect young people from these issues.
How can the United States better support Burma’s efforts to expand opportunity for young Burmese living in poverty?
Educational support, formal or informal, should be provided together with financial support for families. This is the only way young people living in poverty will have access to education. More informal education programs should be available for young people living in poverty and need to be tailored according to their education levels or skills. The United States can support the Burmese government to enforce laws that protect the rights of young people and in creating more job opportunities internally or externally.
Is United States support for Burma’s democratic transition and its people important? Why?
It is important for Burma and its people because there’s a long way for Burma to go before it becomes a full democracy. People need to be educated on what it means to be good and responsible citizens who can help solve issues such as discrimination against minority groups. Political, economic, and social institutions still need to be established and strengthened in Burma before it becomes a country where people have full access to good education, health services and other social benefits. The United States can help us develop those institutions.
Is United States engagement with the countries of Southeast Asia important? Why?
It is important because the United States can help the development of Burma by engaging with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as individual countries in the region. For instance, many businesses in the region have started investing in Burma, but that’s because Burma has cheap labor. Those businesses do not have a sense of cooperate social responsibility and exploit workers. The United States can help and encourage ASEAN to address such issues in the region, and in doing so support Burma's economic reform as well.
Christopher Walsh serves as a Manager for the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Christopher manages communications, evaluation, and public policy research projects that advance freedom and democracy in the world. He also develops and implements efforts to make the Bush Institute a welcoming place for today’s generation of dissidents and democracy advocates, overseeing visits for training, inspiration, and insight.
Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Christopher worked with the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. As IRI’s program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, he coordinated political party building and civic advocacy programs in the Balkans and Turkey.
A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in International Studies. He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and three young children.Full Bio
Jieun Pyun is a Manager for Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. She is primarily responsible for development and implementation of the Liberty and Leadership Forum, an innovative educational and training program that equips young leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed during a democratic transition. The program currently engages young leaders from Burma (Myanmar).
Prior to joining the Bush Center, Jieun was the communications director with the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies and a fellow of the Sun & Star Program on Japan and East Asia at Southern Methodist University.
Jieun currently serves as a council member of the National Unification Advisory Council of the Republic of Korea and the Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Korean School Principals. As a proud member of the Korean Women's International Network, Jieun works to promote women’s leadership in local, national, and global politics and society. Jieun is a writer and presenter who has brought to light the many urgent issues suffered in North Korea.
A native of South Korea, Jieun is a graduate of Southern Methodist University with an M.B.A and B.A. in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.Full Bio
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This year's Liberty and Leadership Forum includes a sitting member of the democratically elected Burmese Parliament; a Rohingya Muslim advocate for human rights in his community; a UN public information officer who volunteers to help lift children out of poverty; and a BBC journalist whose radio programming reaches millions of Burmese youth, all of whom are contributing to their country’s transition to democracy.