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Burmese Young Leaders Have Message for Washington: Htet Htet Oo

A select group of Burmese Young Leader graduates from the Liberty and Leadership Forum were in Washington meeting with policy makers. In a series of articles, they have outlined Burma’s greatest challenges and the need for U.S. leadership in Asia.

Article by Htet Htet Oo July 5, 2017 //   5 minute read
Htet Htet Oo is one of 21 remarkable Young Leaders currently participating in the Bush Institute’s Liberty and Leader Forum (LLF).

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.