Kyi Tha Tun
Educational Initiatives (EI) is an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that works in two areas. The first area is the New Transition to Democracy and the second area is Women Leadership for Peace. I was hired to work as a gender consultant in the second area. I’ve been working at EI for two weeks and in that time I have met some wonderful leaders who have the ability to make you feel thankful about your own life. You may think your life is complicated but wait until you read about their lives. I need to ask my boss for permission to write about her. She’s such a wonderful woman. Unfortunately, she’s out of town right now so we’ll have to wait a little bit to hear about her.
Before I begin, I think it is important to give you a little context about the country. Myanmar was ruled by an authoritarian military regime from 1962 to 2010. In that period, Myanmar was cut-off from the outside world. The very first democratic elections were held in 2010. This was a very important step towards a transition from military rule to a civilian democracy. However, there is still much work to do to establish a permanent, democratic society. Myanmar’s next national election will take place tomorrow!
Now that you know just a little about the Myanmar’s history, let me introduce you to one of my coworkers, a real leader in our field.
Kyi was an activist when he was a university student in 1996. His dream was to live in a democracy and in a country where the government respected the population’s human rights. He was a leader among his peers. He used to encourage them to read “forbidden books” about history, revolution and how to change the authoritarian regime. They had discussions about one book every week. Unfortunately, in 1998 Kyi Tha Tun and his friends got caught and were incarcerated. He spent 14 years in prison.
Kyi Tha Tun found a way to cope with the situation and fight against depression. He managed to learn English and then teach it to younger prisoners. His motto was “You need to consider how to turn limes into lime juice.”
Two years later, thanks to the help of the Red Cross, political prisoners in Burma were able to read books and magazines such as The Economist, Times, and News Week. He told me that the books were very expensive. One day, he managed to smuggle in a laptop which made his life so much easier. Now he could easily get PDF books, magazines and news on small USB flash drives. His favourite book in prison was the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The book is about soviet political prisoners during Stalin’s reign. The book could be very depressing but at the same time it encouraged him to survive. He also read some of my favourite books such as “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs, the “Bottom Billion” by Paul Collier and The Third Wave by Samuel Huntington.
Kyi’s dream was to become a journalist, but after reading more about the economy and politics, he now wishes to obtain a master’s degree in political economics.
He was released from prison in November of 2011 and has since joined a Capacity Building Program at the British Council. He then moved to Thailand where he studied transition to democracy from the perspective of federalism at EI. After he completed the program, the head of EI offered him a permanent job. EI and Kyi Tha Tun relocated to Yangon in May 2013 to work for democracy inside Myanmar.
Currently Kyi Tha Tun is applying to master programs at some top universities such as Harvard and Stanford in the US and the University of Birmingham and the University of Leeds in the UK. His dream for the future is to run his own Think-Tank in Myanmar. He also wants to teach economic transition and foreign affairs to Myanmar politicians.
He taught me an African proverb that changed his life and made him the leader that he is today: “if you want to move fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
He will get the results of his applications by January. I am certain he will have many opportunities presented to him and he will have to decide the best path to choose for himself. I know his future will be filled with success.
I promise to write about Myanmar, food and traditions in the next chapter. Thank you for reading.