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Htet Htet Oo is one of 21 remarkable Young Leaders currently participating in the Bush Institute’s Liberty and Leader Forum (LLF). She has dedicated her life to helping children in impoverished communities and people displaced by armed conflict. One of her heroes is Mother Theresa. Professionally, Htet Htet Oo works for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) as a Humanitarian Reports and Communication Officer. For International Women’s Day, we interviewed this rising star from Burma who represents the incredible work women are doing to advance freedom and opportunity in the world.
GWBI: What women inspire you the most?
HHO: A woman who lives her life for other people inspires me the most. Such a woman can be the leader of a country or a poor mother who devotes her life to raising her children. I'm blessed to have such women in my life. My grandmother and mother are two amazing women who inspire me. My grandmother only finished primary school as she could not continue her education when war broke out in Myanmar in the 1940s. But she understands the value of education and did everything possible to support my education at a time when our family struggled financially. Although she does not share my Christian faith, she has always understood and respected my choice; she has encouraged me to go to church since I was young. My mother worked in Thailand for almost 10 years to support our education though she faced many difficulties.
We need more such women who are open-minded, accept and respect differences, and who can teach younger generations not to judge people by their color, religion, or race in Myanmar [also known as Burma].
I recently met a young mother displaced by violence in Kachin State. Fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed groups forced her and her two young children to flee their refugee camp. At the time, she was also expecting her third child and gave birth days later on the side of the road near the Chinese border. She told me that she wanted a peaceful life and education for her children. Meanwhile, she remains hopeful that one day peace will be restored in the country and she will be able to go home. For me, that young mother is an incredible woman who keeps her hope and optimism in the midst of everything she suffers.
Famous leaders like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi whom I respect for her patience, endurance, perseverance and all the sacrifices she has made for us, her people, and Mother Theresa who sacrificed everything she had and lived each and every day of her life for people in need, also inspire me.
GWBI: What kind of work are you doing with LLF?
HHO: With LLF, specifically my personal leadership project, I am working with children and young people who live in desperate poverty. I am helping them develop vocational skills so that they get better job opportunities, improved living conditions, and better access to educational and health services. As the first step, I plan on helping ten young people who are working odd jobs or in unsafe environments to support their families financially. Working with a local vocational school and local church, I will assist the young people’s enrollment and attendance in a vocational training of interest (nursing, sewing, hair dressing, etc.), then I will connect them with jobs that increase their income, improve their standard of living, and facilitate better access to health and educational services for their families. This also contributes to poverty rate reduction in their communities. Through this project, I also work with parents and community leaders on the value of education and child protection. By helping young people in non-Christian communities, the project also promotes inter-faith dialogue.
GWBI: How has LLF helped you in your daily life?
HHO: Communications and negotiation skills, as well as leadership skills that I learned in LLF, are applied in my daily life. At my work place, I have applied lessons from leadership sessions to influence others by helping them see the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish, helping others be successful as a way of achieving my own success, and how a principled leader should think, act, and work with others.
To hear more from Htet Htet Oo, watch this short video on what freedom means to LLF Young Leaders:
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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