I will be going to Myanmar tomorrow.
It has been a long time coming.
The last I was there was 14 years ago, to Yangon in 1999 for an Overseas Community Involvement Project with my junior college. This time, I will be going to a place I have never physically been to, but where I’ve visited in spirit countless times before. I may have never stepped foot on Kayah State soil, but Kayah, home of the ethnic Karenni people, holds a special place in my heart.
In 2001, when I was a first-year undergrad, I conducted field work in a Post-Grade 10 school in the Nai Soi Refugee Camp along the Thai-Burma border. The school served students who had passed Grade 10 but, because of their refugee status, had no access to higher education, yet also no access to work. There I befriended and heard the painful stories of many young Karenni refugees and grappled to come to terms with the privilege I had as a university student, while my new friends were in the camp, able only to dream about furthering their education.
With Myanmar’s current transition to democracy, long-standing travel restrictions to Kayah State were finally lifted in January this year and my friend has asked me to go in his stead to contribute something to the friends who have helped him.
Today, as a result of the brain drain, Kayah, the smallest and poorest state, also has the lowest national pass rate for Myanmar’s Basic Education Standard 10 Examination diploma. I don’t know what I can do, but I will go listen to school and community leaders, teachers and students, and learn about their aspirations to develop their own community.