Presentation at the U.S. Institute of Peace

author: Gabe Hopkins
date: 2008-11-22 07:58:07+00:00
slug: presentation-at-the-us-institute-of-peace
title: Presentation at the U.S. Institute of Peace
wordpress_id: 802

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On Thursday, Nov. 13 we participated in a fantastic roundtable discussion at USIP on the role of youth in the process of peace-building in Burma.  Twenty-five people from a range of organizations including the Center for Peace Building International, USAID, USIP, the State Department and PACT International came together to discuss observations, experiences, lessons learned and ways forward for involving and strengthening youth in peace-building.

As with our presentation at the Women’s Commission in New York last week, we kicked off the discussion with a presentation of findings from the CPBI reportOvercoming Obstacles, Creating Opportunities: Youth Perspectives from the Thai-Burma Border_.  Unlike in New York, we had the great pleasure and advantage of having Meg Libby, another one of the report’s co-authors, with us to present and add her invaluable insights to the discussion.  Meg was not only able to speak to the original research from the spring of 2007 that makes up the report but also what she has learned living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the past 10 months as a Boren Fellow.

After our presentation the floor opened up to a lively exchange of questions and ideas.  Many key issues were raised: How do we move past the stage of findings and recommendations and start to articulate actual programs?  What specifically would be the goals of those programs?  How can we be sure that programs substantively address the problems raised in our report and other research?  How can we be sure that the goals of programs are in line with the goals of the communities we are designing them for?  And how do we effectively monitor and evaluate the successes and shortcomings of youth peace-building programs?

Whew, there are a lot of tough questions there but answering them is critical if we are serious about making progress towards peace in Burma.  A lot of great ideas for addressing them were shared, drawing on lessons not just from Burma but also its neighboring countries and Central Asia.  At the end of the discussion we showed the film we produced in tandem with the report Under the Sun: Life on the Thai-Burma Border and continued to talk to many of the participants afterwards, exchanging thoughts, idea and advice.

Many thanks to all of those who came to the discussion and contributed their valuable time and opinions.  Special thanks to USIP for hosting the event and making this valuable exchange possible.

For our own part there are a couple of ideas that we believe need to be part of answers to any and all of these questions.  These ideas can perhaps best be encapsulated in three words: Education, Communication and Participation.

Education is a broad term and that’s intentional.  There are many education needs for young people in Burma and on its borders.  These range from traditional concepts of schooling (primary, secondary, higher, vocational) to technology training to human rights education.  On all of these fronts education is a process that empowers people and strengthens communities.

Communication is a crucial element that is missing from the Burma context.  Anyone who has studied the country even briefly is faced with the incredible complexity of its history and present political situation.  While it is tempting to lay the blame for all of Burma’s woes at the feet of the junta led by Senior General Than Shwe (and that gruesome cabal is undeniably guilty of countless evil deeds) that is a naive and shortsighted response to improving conditions for Burma’s people. Just as Iraq’s problems were bigger that Saddam Hussein alone, Burma’s problems are bigger than the SPDC.  Equally as important are the dozens of ethnic groups (and myriad sub-groups) that live in and around its borders, the hundreds of different dialects these groups speak, the tense history of their interactions and their conflicting views of the future.  Right now, these groups are largely isolated from each other and have no effective structure for dialog or cooperation.  We believe that developing communications tools for the larger Burmese community is an essential aspect of making sustainable progress towards peace in the country.

Finally, without Participation we cannot expect meaningful change to come to Burma.  This means that people of Burma, all of them, need to have a structure through which to participate in the development of their own communities and country.  Without one the conflicts and enmities that have riven the country for decades will simply continue.  Equally important to participation is the idea that the Burmese are the ones who should make the decisions about development in their communities and their country and, indeed, what that development means.