Prospect Burma blog, February 2021

The safety of our students, staff and alumni is Prospect Burma’s priority. We urge all parties to respect the rights of each and every one of them to study, work, live, express themselves and determine their future without facing violence, intimidation or censure.

Flags from across Myanmar (all photos are generic protest photos, not of our students or alumni)

We are not a political organisation. We are not expressing a political opinion. This is a call to respect the universal declaration of human rights, which Myanmar was one of the first countries to adopt.

Prospect Burma will remain active and committed to its core mission and vision. Education is the greatest tool for change that we can support for the country.

We remain operational in the country because, while there are life-changing immediate issues that are rightly prominent in the world’s media, right now the long-term issues we deal with are also facing damage on a daily basis.

We focus our efforts and experience on the long-term transformation of young people’s skills and insights, keeping hope alive. We specialise in offering educational opportunities to young people from every region, ethnicity, culture, religion and gender in Myanmar.

We are privy to many personal conversations and private social media, privacy which we respect, but which helps us to give the right help at the right time and find out what’s happening. 

Away from the cameras, we are aware violence has already startedIt never stopped. In Karen State, where a ceasefire is supposed to be in place, we are sent photographs of children huddled together in trenches. Local community groups claim that shells are being fired randomly across villages, pushing people underground to try and continue their lives. 

We speak to university students who have left rural villages to gain skills abroad, which their local communities need. They are already marooned away from their families by COVID-19. In their home villages, their families often share community mobile phones but are now frequently uncontactable as communications are cut. 

Conversely, other students didn’t make it to their universities abroad due to COVID-19 and are trying to study remotely from home. Power and internet are intermittent. Their studies are interrupted and they are worried that they will fail and be thrown off their courses. 

Wall projections are among the creative media being used

For our alumni who have recently completed their studies and are now amongst Myanmar’s young professionals, the moral dilemmas they face are acute. In Yangon and Mandalay, their Facebook posts reflect the explosion of colourful self-determination we’re seeing from Generation Z, and their expertise at using digital art and communication. They are in a modern digital bubble that is both joyous and angry.

But they also know that civil disobedience, strikes or go-slows can carry consequences. Besides, disobedience is not their nature. They are conscientious and want to be good workers who don’t let people down. What should they do? 

Many of our students live in rural, under-served townships and villages and speak many different languages. Their opinions reflect the complicated mosaic of ethnic identities and vibrant cultures across the country. One Karen girl movingly posts: “We don’t fight for one party, one leader, one race or nationality, one taing-yintha (native) and one religion. We are all together”. Another posts:  “We were not there for the Rohingya, but they are there for us”.

As the wheels of politics move, learning throughout the country grinds to a halt. Schools are shutplans to promote education have stopped, the Ministry of Education is all but closed, and it took a fortnight to find anyone even willing to be its Minister.  

Every day that learning is suspended, millions remain in poverty and conflict, and young people are denied the chance to pull their country out of its destructive cycles, no matter how strongly they want to. 

Myanmar’s chronic lack of professional skills means that, with its economy frozen by conflict and COVID, livelihoods fail and people die. There simply aren’t the project managers, planners, engineers, medical staff or every other role a functioning community needs in order to thrive while supporting its vulnerable. 

This is not just an emergency for the future, it is an emergency for today, and every day. People are starving and facing threats to lives and livelihoods now, because their neighbours don’t know how to stop it happening. The frameworks to do so don’t exist, because communities are unable to create them. 

Occupational groups are among the marchers

We will remain committed to education. But, as this in the past, the means of delivering this will have to adjust and adaptDuring a time of renewed crisis, Prospect Burma – with its 30 years of experience – is reviewing its in-country projects that bring young people together from across the country to learn tolerance and understanding, and to develop critical thinking, language and digital skills.  

These ‘bridging skills’ are vital to give young people from all ethnicities a chance to access higher education, gain professional skills, or develop perspectives to solve the many deep challenges in the country. We may be able to provide these projects digitally this year, but we’re not sure yet. 

What we are definitely continuing with, right now, is going through the record 600 applications we received in January from young people across all 14 states and regions across Myanmar, as well as internally displaced camps and exiles, for support from Prospect Burma to study at universities abroad. Foreign universities offer international standard education which isn’t available in Myanmar’s university system. Until the present day, higher education has never recovered from the regression that followed the closure of universities by the authorities in the aftermath of student-led protests for democracy in 1988. 

Our staff continue to work from home, safe from COVID-19. They are doing everything they can to look after our current students and to select and prepare the next cohort, to give Myanmar a chance of building a better future.  

Prospect Burma is a conduit for positive change, enabled by kind donations from supporters who live all around the world, from Basingstoke to Baltimore. They are generous benefactors, all united by a passion for the country and all facing the same question right now as they watch and read the news: what can I do to help? 

It is the young people of Myanmar themselves who are the nation’s hope. It breaks the heart of anyone who knows the country to see news pictures of its young women and men locked in protest, struggle and fear.  

In reality, we know (and they tell us) they want to learn, to help, to volunteer, to work hard, to be humble, respectful, to laugh, to look after their families and neighbours and to gain peace and prosperity for their communities. They have a long list of ambitions, and they are the best prospect that Burma could ever wish for. 

(Text and video copyright – Prospect Burma; Still images copyright – images widely shared on social media)