Myanmar Young Leaders Programme
The Myanmar Young Leaders Programme was established by UnionAID in 2009, originally as the Burma Young Community Leaders Programme. It was initially established when the country was under military rule and a number of the first participants worked in exile on the Thai-Burma border. After Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irawaddy delta in 2008, there was a surge of young people joining humanitarian organisations to help with rescue efforts. Many of our early participants were inspired by this work and joined organisations trying to make a difference under a difficult and dangerous political situation. Since 2012 there have been significant improvements and, at the end of 2020, twelve cohorts have been through the programme, with over 90 alumni now making a valuable contribution to the country’s transition to democracy.
What is the MYLP?
The purpose of the MYLP is to build a network of highly skilled leaders who will contribute to the peaceful development of Myanmar and maintain strong links with New Zealand. Candidates must be aged between 24-35 and working in trade unions, non-governmental organisations, including women’s and ethnic organisations, or similar groups. The aim is to have a gender balance and a mix of students from across Myanmar to promote understanding and tolerance between the different ethnic and religious groups that make up this extremely diverse country.
The MYLP is a full-time, intensive six-month programme which runs from March until August each year. The programme is based at the English Language Institute of Victoria University of Wellington, one of New Zealand’s leading universities. Initially there is a day workshop for participants in Yangon prior to leaving to meet one another, learn from programme alumni, and hear from the NZ Ambassador to Myanmar. On arrival in Wellington there are two weeks orientation to the city and the university campus. All students stay with carefully selected host families and are expected to be part of the family, build their conversational English, and immerse themselves in a new culture.
The key part of the MYLP is an eleven week Democracy in Action (DiA) course, especially developed for the students, with modules on democratic processes, human rights and economics, and basic research and proposal writing skills. Learning is promoted through discussions, workshops on topics (such as mediation and co-design), class presentations, and visits to organisations and government departments. This course is preceded by 13 weeks of an English Proficiency Programme (EPP) to enable students to maximise their understanding and learning from the DiA. A teacher from the English Language Institute – who has been with the programme from the beginning – works closely with participants, teaching the orientation, assisting with the tailored course, and meeting regularly to support students during the English Proficiency Programme (EPP).
Students also have time to explore an individual interest in some depth which informs a proposal for a small action project. This proposal is submitted for funding to a UnionAID panel and, if approved, implemented in their communities on their return home. Thousands of community members have benefitted from these projects to date.
The six-month programme is delivered by UnionAID, in partnership with Victoria University. The overall programme teacher is Karen Falconer, who has been with the MYLP since it began, but students learn from a range of academics, mentors, and other experts from local and central government, NGOs, unions, and Māori. Many of these offer their time as volunteers. The programme will include the following:
- A one day foundation workshop.
- A two week orientation on arrival in Wellington to introduce the MYLP and familiarise students with the Victoria University campus and the English Proficiency Programme (EPP).
- A 13 week English language proficiency programme.
A 10-week Democracy in Action Programme covering the following topics:
- Democratic processes, including Parliament, local government, good governance, electoral processes, human rights, labour rights, and basic economics
- An introduction to research and proposal writing modules
- Indigenous approaches to development, the Treaty of Waitangi and development of the Māori economy.
- Workshops on topics such as mediation, intersectionality, and co-design.
- Local government and water management
- climate change
The programme also includes:
- The opportunity to explore a special interest over several days with access to a personal mentor, relevant organisations and experts on your topic
- Developing a proposal for a community action project (based on the special interest)
- Submitting a proposal to UnionAID for funding and if successful
- Managing a project in Myanmar
- An annual alumni conference in Myanmar organised and run by alumni for learning, support, and networking with groups from other years of MYLP.
High profile speakers on geopolitics, including our Ambassador Steve Marshall, had alumni enthralled at the alumni conference in Bagan recently. Myanmar is rich in resources
Life under lockdown for two of the Myanmar students was beautifully illustrated in a short video by film maker, Anna Cottrell, screened to MYLP hosts