Archives - ‘Myanmar’

Yangon: Three months later

November 23, 2018 | Lydia, Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in Public Administration (Co-op) (French Immersion), Myanmar, Forum of Federations, Intern

A few weeks into my internship here in Yangon, my supervisor turned to me and asked, “How is Myanmar compared to your expectations?”

In my first two weeks of exploring Yangon, I was already thinking that three months would not be nearly enough time to truly understand the country. Three months later, I am convinced that more time will be needed to get a feel for this rapidly changing and truly diverse country.

I was told in a recent conversation about internships that the intern will always benefit the most from such programmes (more so than the organisation they are working for). Although I’m not convinced that is always the truth, I can say that I have completely benefited from this term abroad living in Yangon and interning at the Forum of Federations Myanmar office. Future interns: this is an awesome opportunity to learn on so many levels and a great place to make some wonderful connections.

On a broadly professional level, the Forum of Federations and Yangon is a great place to gain insight into the work of non-governmental organisations. You will be able to see and compare the work and partnerships of an NGO such as the Forum, which operates by cooperating with a variety of local political, educational, and civil society organisations, with the operations of other organisations in the field here (e.g. NGOs, embassies, UN agencies, development banks, etc.). There is a variety of work that interns can help with if you can and want to, including reporting, logistics, research, supporting at workshops, etc.

The workshops themselves are an amazing opportunity to improve your knowledge of theories and principles in public administration, democratisation, and peace/conflict studies. They’re also a unique opportunity to speak with local participants and experts in the subject to gain further understanding on different levels of application.

As an undergrad student, it can be hard to figure out what exactly you know, don’t know, and should know. It can also be hard to figure out how to achieve certain goals, if you are even certain about your goals. Working with and listening to intelligent and driven participants at workshops, colleagues at the Forum and peers at other organisations has only made me a more driven and knowledgeable person.

Furthermore, just living and absorbing your surroundings in Yangon is a learning experience. For example, I’ve always been an agnostic/atheist and never really learned about or understood any religion other than reading the Old Testament for a literature studies course and briefly studying Confucius as an exchange student in Beijing when I was younger. In Canada, about 23% of the population is not religious—that number is ~0.1% according to Myanmar’s 2014 census. Whereas Canadians often keep religion as a private matter, Myanmar people share habitually. In the last three months, this is just one aspect of life where the openness and friendliness of people have helped to open my eyes. While I’ve been lucky to travel to different areas of the country and explore with locals and on my own, three months has allowed me a good taste of the country, but not nearly enough time to truly know it.

At this point, I can only say that the whole experience has torn apart any expectations I had before arriving in Yangon and left me wanting more. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon in a capacity where I can really make a positive contribution to the work being advanced here.

Hello from Myanmar !

November 8, 2018 | Lydia, Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in Public Administration (Co-op) (French Immersion), Myanmar, Forum of Federations, Intern

I arrive in Yangon at night on September 4 and watch the city lights come into view, as I am driven to my hotel room for the night, stomach anticipating an exciting experience interning at the Forum of Federation’s Myanmar office. I am well aware of Myanmar’s reputation in Canada—the Rakhine State crisis, human rights violations, ethno-religious violence, freedom of media are issues well-covered by the Western media. But as with any country, the problems profiled in the media are only one side of the country’s good, bad and ugly. I’m looking forward to exploring as much as I can in the short three months I’ll have and getting some understanding of the way forward being taken in Myanmar.

The Forum was founded in Ottawa in the late 90s and is funded by Canada and a number of partner countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Switzerland). Rather than advocate federalism as a solution, it aims to provide expertise and education on multi-level/devolved governance. It provides development assistance by convening experts and forums as part of its programs in the MENA, and South and Southeast Asia regions. The Myanmar country office has been running since 2012 and has been successful in implementing a number of training programs, working with local actors and partners from across sectors. The current program aims to enhance federal democracy, stability, and inclusiveness in Myanmar by enabling political stakeholders in the country to make informed decisions about Myanmar’s future state structure, by informing them about federal options, and by increasing engagement of citizens and civil society, including ethnic minority and women’s groups.

When the British retreated out of Burma during World War II, they adopted a scorched earth policy, which still has wide-ranging political and economic effects. The country gained independence in 1948 but has been trying to deal with wide-ranging interests and perspectives since. The first elections were held in 2010, but, constitutionally, 25% of seats are reserved for the military. The various Ethnic Armed Organizations which have been fighting the central military for decades having only signed a landmark Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in 2015. Myanmar is still at the beginning of the peace and democratization process.

As a public administration major, it’s been really interesting to see how federalism topics are taught and applied in a country where the state institutions are in the process of being built. It’s easy to take conventions and institutions of a democracy for granted, growing up in Canada, where most situations and decisions have some political precedent at this point. Our Canadian institutions, though still young, have been evolving and building since before Confederation over 150 years ago, and have been largely untouched by war or significant civil unrest.

There are many ways in which Canada and Myanmar are similar. Both countries have an abundance of natural resources, both are bordered by larger often dominating countries, both are home to many diverse peoples. In Myanmar, there are over 100 ethnic races that speak over 100 languages and dialects. Although Buddhism is the majority religion, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and other religions are also alive here. In the mountainous regions, a village at the top may speak a different language than a village at the bottom of a hill. It’s no wonder that participants at workshops are always very interested in the Quebec experience when Canada is spoken about, as an example of unity and diversity. Canada’s ongoing history with indigenous people, however, may serve as a different type of example.

But what I am learning as I meet with and speak to more people here, is that people are trying. Different individuals, organizations, groups, institutions are all working towards a prosperous and peaceful nation in the future. My hope is that this future becomes one where the diversity and beauty of Myanmar’s peoples can be represented.

Three months have absolutely flown by!!!

July 30, 2018 | Bradley, Specialization - International Development and Globalization, Forum of Federations, research

The past three months have absolutely flown by. I feel as if I just stepped off the plane from Canada last week, yet I’m already packing my bags to return. I think it’s a testament to how much I have enjoyed my time here in beautiful Myanmar, and at my internship at the Forum of Federations.

Despite all of my research and work with the Forum, I still feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of the complexities and context of Myanmar’s ongoing peace process and transition. There are so many moving parts, so many different interests at play, that I’m sure I could spend another year here and still have so much to learn. After all, Myanmar’s history spans hundreds of years, how much can one expect to learn about it and how it affects the country’s current situation in only three short months?

That isn’t to say that I haven’t learned a lot. I have learned so much about Myanmar, its history, its challenges, and its place in the world. I have also learned about the role of NGOs in this context, how they operate, how they are funded, how the work with each other, and the challenges which can arise from any of these. The workshops hosted by the Panna Institute in Mandalay over the last couple of weeks, which I was fortunate enough to attend, really demonstrated how NGOs can work together to achieve common goals, in this case outreach and education on land governance and green federalism.

I have also learned about the practical challenges of implementing change at a large scale. Trying to implement changes which will affect tens of millions of people isn’t an overnight process, and this is the case with Myanmar’s transition. Through cooperation with local partners and international organizations I think the Forum of Federations and other NGOs, as well as community leaders and civil society organizations, are making progress, but it’s an arduous process and it will likely be many more years before the transition is complete.

The kindness of my coworkers has been a highlight of the experience and I will be sad to say goodbye. Seeing the friends I have made here for possibly the last time is heartbreaking, but I will always cherish the time we had together. I really feel as if my little apartment in Yangon has become home, and it will be a strange experience to simply pick up and leave. I’ll miss living in the city of Yangon, the ubiquitous pagodas and Buddhist monks, the longyis, the thanaka-adorned faces, the food. I’ll miss seeing the Shwedagon Pagoda from my office, peeking above the trees, and the bustling markets.

There were challenges, of course. Being unable to speak Burmese, it was sometimes difficult to keep up with the office’s work, especially when things came up at the last minute. But that is to be expected when the rest of the office speaks Burmese, and most of the work is done in Burmese. But it taught me to be more proactive when seeking information and keeping up with the office’s schedule, which I think is a useful habit in any work environment.

Overall, I think I have gained so much from this internship, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the experience to someone else. It has let me observe firsthand how foreign aid is used to effect change through NGOs. I have made some great friends and have so many memories that I will cherish forever. I hope someday that I will have an opportunity to return!

Eye-Opening Experience

July 5, 2018 | Bradley, Specialization - International Development and Globalization, Forum of Federations, research

It has been well over a month since I arrived in Yangon, Myanmar, and began my internship at the Forum of Federations (FOF) Myanmar Office. It has been a great opportunity to put my knowledge of international development into practice in an interesting and dynamic country, and I am so lucky to work with such enthusiastic, knowledgeable individuals.

I was attracted to this internship because of the scope of the changes Myanmar is undergoing, and that the Forum of Federations is involved in this transition. By educating stakeholders, the organization hopes to enable them to make informed decisions regarding the country’s political future. I like that the organization is not attempting to influence the outcome one way or another, but rather is attempting to ensure that stakeholders and communities are as informed as possible before they decide for themselves.

A large portion of the Forum of Federations’ work here in Myanmar is comprised of hosting workshops on various aspects of federalism. These are held for stakeholders, such as politicians and civil society organizations, as well as community leaders and the general public. The objective is to spread knowledge of federal systems to citizens of Myanmar, so that aspects of this model of governance can be taken into account when implementing changes to the legal and political systems in the future.
The highlight of my trip so far has been attending one of these workshops, held in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, Myanmar’s national parliament, in Naypyitaw. This workshop focused on fiscal federalism, and involved a lecture delivered by the University of Ottawa’s own Dr. Jean-Francois Tremblay and question periods. It was attended by members of parliament and parliamentary staffers, and was organized with the cooperation of the Joint Coordination Committee for Hluttaw Development.

The planning and effort that went into the workshop was immense. Dr. Tremblay was flown in from Canada, the event was scheduled and rescheduled to accommodate members of parliament with busy schedules, and members of the FOF team were transported to Naypyitaw from Yangon. All of it culminating in a two-day workshop attended by over 100 members of parliament. I was told during the first few days of my internship that the Forum has held dozens of these workshops during its time in Myanmar, but seeing how much work and organization goes into a single one gave me a new appreciation for this achievement.

Although the scale of the changes Myanmar is undergoing — and the Forum of Federations’ involvement in this process — is what attracted me to the position, my time here has really driven home how large-scale change is incremental, rather than abrupt. For each hour of the workshop there was probably 20 man-hours of preparation behind the scenes. And while the impact of each individual workshop may be small, the cumulative effect of many of these workshops over time, combined with the Forum’s other activities, will hopefully have a significant impact over time.

Just living in Yangon for an extended period has also been an eye-opening experience. It is interesting to see firsthand a city in a country undergoing such a dramatic transformation. As sanctions against Myanmar were eased throughout the 2010s, Myanmar experienced significant economic growth. However, the potentially uneven nature of economic growth is clearly visible in Yangon. Near my apartment, for example, is a huge, brand new air conditioned shopping mall which houses luxury retailers, while just across the street people live in makeshift houses, and stray dogs are underfoot.
Even so, Yangon is an amazing city and living here has been wonderful. There is so much history it’s incredible. From my office I can see the tip of the breathtaking Shwedagon Pagoda peeking over the trees. A short walk from the Shwedagon is the tomb of the last Mughal emperor, who died in exile, largely forgotten, during British occupation. Downtown the 2500 year-old Sule Pagoda serves as a traffic circle and important landmark, a feature you would be hard-pressed to find in any other city. History is everywhere you turn in Yangon.

Overall, the experience so far has been almost overwhelming. There is so much to learn, see, and experience, and I am excited for what the coming weeks might bring.

The answer is a simple ‘yes’

November 24, 2017 | Celeste, ECH, Myanmar, Forum des fédérations Myanmar- Intern

Three months are quickly coming to an end, and as I am left saying my final goodbyes I have taken the chance to look back on the unforgettable experience I have had living and working in Myanmar. While a part of me is ready to get back to my home and step into the whirlwind of university life again, I am reluctant to leave a place that has given me so much, in terms of a new perspective of the world, new friends who will certainly be lifelong friends, and a newfound pride and respect for myself and the challenges I have overcome.

Working with a NGO has given me a fascinating insight into the non-profit field. I have seen first hand how these organizations navigate political and social dynamics to ensure that their mandate is being fulfilled effectively. My own skills have been put to the test and while I’ve had the chance to write a lot of reports and briefings, I’ve also been challenged to work in new areas, like social media outreach and writing press releases. During the workshops that we have hosted, I have met the most amazing people and heard such incredible stories of resilience and hope. Creating these forum spaces for all levels of political and social stakeholders to voice their blueprints for the future of federalism in Myanmar has been a successful step in moving toward a peaceful, decentralized country. What’s been reassuring is to see that NGOs undergo a constant cycle of reinvention, always aiming to create the greatest impact possible. A few weeks ago, we had the annual project steering committee meetings and it has been great to see the organization commit to improving its outreach to youth and women, as well as aiming to reach a more geographically diverse audience.

Two weeks after I arrived in Myanmar, I had the opportunity to attend a “Gender and Federalism” workshop that had been organized by the NGO I am working for. It remains the most impactful experience I’ve had in the work field. Over the two day event I listened as women shared their personal experiences of gender discrimination and their hopes for a future where women and sexual minorities have access to equal rights and opportunities as men. These women and non-binary folk – politicians, academics, activists – told stories of imprisonment and sexual assault, of forced gender roles and lost chances simply because of their identity; and yet here they all were, continuing to fight for what is rightly theirs. It was a uniquely empowering experience for me and it was the first time, of many, during this internship that I was humbled to have the opportunity to be here, witnessing this.

It’s the little things about my day-to-day life here that I will miss the most. The longjis that everyone wears, so colourful that everywhere you look seems like one giant flower garden. The bitter tea leaf salad and sweet fried nuts that are a staple palate cleanser for every meal. The golden Shwedagon Pagoda that rises triumphantly from the busy streets at the city centre; as I drive to work I have an unparalleled view of it’s spire from between the apartment buildings. My little apartment that I have made my home; I’ll miss the comfort it has brought me but less so the cockroaches and other creatures it has acquainted me with. The daily market just outside my door, always filled with shoppers. I loved picking out the best batch of sweet bananas or Asian pears and then bartering for a fair price – the smell of fresh, raw fish and seafood first thing in the morning won’t be missed as much. Hopping on a night bus and spending each weekend in a new city, exploring the stunning architectural history of Bagan or the vibrant natural beauty of Inle Lake. But most of all, I will miss the hospitality of the people who have welcomed me so kindly. Whether it was a quick chat, smile and exchange or an invitation to someone’s home to share a meal with their family, I have encountered nothing but generosity.

Of course, the experience has not been without its challenges, and to be here now, packing my bags after three months abroad, I am thankful for every one because they have helped me become more understanding of myself and the environment that surrounds me. Arriving in an unknown place where the social, economic, and gender dynamics are presented completely differently than where you come from, there’s a significant need to engage yourself in understanding the history, traditions, and culture that shape them. I know that these three months have profoundly influenced how I will continue my studies in the future.

Personally, this internship has taught me to take things less seriously and just “go with the flow,” something that I often find difficult as an individual who values structure. It has also thrown me into situations where I’ve had to speak up for myself when I normally would have remained silent. But most importantly, it’s shown me that laughter is the best method of connection. There’s nothing like trying to communicate without words to send everyone into a fit of giggles and create a special, shared moment between strangers or friends.

Since before my university career began, I knew that I wanted to participate in an international exchange. I have been extremely fortunate to live abroad twice in my life and I know, first hand, how there is nothing as challenging and rewarding as immersing yourself in the unknown. I’m a firm believer in experiential learning and I am so grateful that the university offers the opportunity to students to bring what they have learned in the classroom to life in the field.

What a privilege is has been to be a part of something so meaningful and unique. If you are reading these blog posts because you are considering taking part in an internship, the answer is a simple ‘yes.’ You won’t regret it!

Mingalabar from Myanmar!

October 25, 2017 | Celeste, ECH, Myanmar, Forum des fédérations Myanmar- Intern

When people asked me why I chose Myanmar as my internship destination, I tended to give a slew of answers. “It will be very interesting to work in a country that is currently undergoing both a humanitarian crisis and a peace process,” I would say, or, “I’ve never been to Asia before and this experience will be completely new and challenging.” Sometimes I said it was the topic of federalism that attracted me, that I wanted to see first-hand how a country develops into a federal system. Whatever my hopes or expectations at the beginning of this journey, they’ve undoubtedly been fulfilled, and then some.

Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and although it’s not the capital, it might as well be. Individuals and families from all over the country move there to live and work, and it’s the country’s business hub, meaning it’s where you’ll find the biggest population of expats. The city is loud and noisy but also friendly and vibrant, with unexpected lake-side gardens that offer seclusion from the mayhem of each day. In downtown Yangon, on the fifth floor of a building in a neighborhood not far from the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, you’ll find the Forum of Federations Myanmar Country Office.

Forum of Federations in a Canadian NGO that provides education on federalism and decentralization in multi-level democratic countries. The organization’s focus is on supporting the development of democratic governance in post-conflict states; the office in Myanmar was established in 2015 after the first free and democratic elections in nearly 25 years took place. During the many years of autocratic rule in the past, federalism was painted as tool that was used by secessionists to fulfill their goals of dividing the country, unfortunately a lie that has stuck with many to this day. Now that the National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s ruling party, has voiced its commitment to creating a successful federal state the topic has risen in importance, so far as to be included in national dialogue and as an element of the ongoing peace process.

With this surge in popularity on the subject of federalism, our work caters perfectly to the interests of the people: how can Myanmar improve its federal principles? Rather than provide a map of the steps that must be taken, the organization instead offers education about the possible frameworks for a democratic system and then invites the people of Myanmar to discover how that framework will look for them. This has been one of the greatest learning experiences for me so far: the role of an NGO – in this context – is not to give capacity to the people but rather to teach them how they can maximize their own. Forum does this by holding workshops with relevant stakeholders on the topics of federalism and decentralization. Everything that is covered in these events relates to the current social and political dynamics in the country: ethnic diversity and conflict, the management of natural resources, gender equality, the powerful role of the military, the need to decentralize power from the national government… And the list goes on. The workshops are very two-sided and I learn from the participants each day, hearing their incredible stories and their devised strategies to overcome the many challenges that federalism faces right now. Part of my responsibilities here is to interview individuals who attend our workshops about their experiences and their thoughts on the future; it has been an incredible privilege to hear their stories and I continue to be blown away by their resilience and dedication to fighting for peace and progress in their country.

I would say that my time is divided equally between the office and field work, by which I mean attending workshops that are held outside Yangon. My years of note-taking and essay writing are paying-off as it’s my responsibility to keep record of the workshop proceedings and then write a summary report of each one. So far, I’ve been lucky to travel quite a bit and visit cities I most likely wouldn’t have on my own. During one of our trips through the Bago Region, we took a van from Taungoo to Pyay, over a mountain range that is known historically as where communist insurgents hid out several decades ago. How they managed to live there I don’t know, as it was the most twisty and most winding up-and-down 6 hours of my life. The view was exquisite, but I was unfortunately the only one who could enjoy it because everyone else was carsick! Needless to say, it was a memorable time.

What’s surprised me the most regarding the work we are doing here is the sheer scope it covers. Although our team is comprised of few people, the organization coordinates with local partners to extend its reach as far as possible. Workshops have been held in every state and region in the country with participants ranging from high level political officials to individual activists, and everyone in between. Just last week I sat for lunch with the Chief Minister and the Speaker of the Bago Regional Parliament, both of whom had attended our training sessions. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Members of Parliament, representatives of countless Civil Society Organizations, academics, activists, youth leaders, military officers, and many more. Not only do the workshops include an array of people and cover a number of locations, the themes will change as well depending on the intended audience. Special topic workshops have been held on federalism and the environment, education in a federal system, and gender and federalism, to name a few. The workshop that we did on the subject of gender was the first one I took part in and remains my favourite experience to date; it was amazing to see so many women, men, and non-binary folk come together to discuss empowerment and the need for greater gender diversity in politics.

For the past three years I have studied political and social conflict, but never have I lived in a country where over 50 years of its history is lost to the tyranny of more than one military regime. I have read books and written countless papers on human rights, but never have I been in a situation that is parallel to the historical atrocities that I learn about in school. This is what you can expect from taking part in an internship: a learning experience like no other.

I have always felt that I am moving forward with my studies but that I would have to wait until I graduated and had an established career to start ‘making a difference,’ as they say. But, as I think back over the past two months and the incredible strides I have seen taken, I know that, even in the smallest way, my presence and work here matters.

ကျေးဇူးတင်ပါတယ် (thank you) for reading, until next time!

The people of Myanmar

August 4, 2017 | Marc-Antoine, ECH, Myanmar, Forum des fédérations

To begin with, for three months, I have met various groups of people, from the four corners of the Myanmar territory. The work with the Forum of Federations consisted of meeting with different peoples to discuss on federalism, minority rights, natural resources, fiscal federalism and many other important themes.

During those workshop trainings on the topic of federalism, I had to interview distinct constituents that generously offered their time to answer my questions. Most of the participants that accepted to answer the questions were, in significant majority, young and middle-aged women that were interested in federalism and who’s occupations ranged from Members of Parliament to CSOs and interested citizens. Even after the election of Lady Aung San Suu Kyi, most of the peoples I met and interviewed asserted that women were equal in Myanmar, but solely by law as they are still facing challenges in society; therefore, I decided to direct most of my work towards women.

Of course, the participants of the workshops had distinct interests regarding the essence of what is federalism in Myanmar, but also had different, perspectives, opinions and interpretations of what the concept is and what a democracy should look like.

That is, in most cases, the peoples of Myanmar thought it was crucial to emphasize that Myanmar must, even if it becomes a federal democracy, maintain its cultural heritage while allowing investors to come in the country.

Within this scope, the theory of dependency has shaped the discourses of the end of the 20th century and decolonizing the minds is a process that all colonized countries must go through in order to form their own imagined nation. And, my observations demonstrate that those communities, particularly the young people of the communities, overcame this issue.

In sum, the peoples that attended the workshops seemed to be hopeful for a peaceful, prosper and federal Myanmar.

In conclusion, for someone that is passionate, spirited and enthusiastic to work in the field of conflict resolution, this internship in the right one for you. As a young adult of 22 years old, I come back in Canada more driven and more comprehensive of what is the work of people in the field of conflict resolution. I discovered a beautiful country and I made friends that will last for a life time. This internship is not only a valuable work experience but also a life experience as, during those three months, I grew in personality and character while increasingly developing my individuality.

Yangon, Myanmar

August 4, 2017 | Marc-Antoine, ECH, Myanmar, Forum des fédérations

In the past few months, as a Canadian expatriate and the new intern for the Forum of Federations, I had the opportunity to meet various peoples, from diverse members of Civil Society Organizations to Members of Parliament and Shareholders of political parties. The Forum of Federations (FOF) is an International Organization that brings together 20 federal democratic countries around the world. As the new Intern, I was living in the economic capital of Yangon, but I had the chance to travel around the country in the scope of my work with the FOF.

Beforehand, Myanmar is a developing country that opened its doors to the world only in 2012, the country has a rich cultural heritage, history and civilization, however ethnic and religious conflicts have slowed down its development and the country remains one the poorest in the region. Although it is true, the country’s new democratically elected leader, Lady Aung San Suu Kyi has been struggling to maintain peace in Myanmar as the military junta and a rebel group are still fighting in the North. The international community has given enormous attention to human rights issues in the Eastern part of Myanmar where, the Rohingyas, a Muslim minority, are being cleansed. This short blog post will illustrate my three months internship in the beautiful country of Myanmar by discussing on the country and the peoples in the scope of my experiences.

To begin with, while landing in Yangon International Airport, the first noticeable characteristic of the country is the lack of economic development, the pollution and the unclean streets. However, once your feet have landed on the ground and you are slowly discovering the country, you immediately understand what makes Myanmar so fascinating. The people are sociable, welcoming and you can feel the warmth, munificence and hospitality only after a few seconds of interaction with the Burmese people.

While enjoying your first taxi ride at a singularly cheap price, you can observe the unique character and architecture of the economic capital. Although it’s true, the economic life is a stagnant and motionless watercourse. By looking at the microeconomics of the country, you can observe that many citizens are unemployed, do not have decent wages and suffer from poverty. Furthermore, there are many market places around the city where you can buy cheap goods and services, however since there is almost no economic life during the week-ends, those shops are most likely to be closed. In other words, Yangon is dormant during the weekends.

While wandering around the city, expatriates will notice the rich cultural heritage of the old Myanmar civilization before the English colonization. Of course, ‘‘Westerners’’, as the Burmese people like to call them, are viewed as despicable by some traditional Burmese citizens. But, without exaggeration, tourists, expatriates and Canadians are generally well treated by the majority.

In every radius of around 10 km you can find a beautiful Buddhist temple decorated with gold and jewels where Buddhists and Monks go to meditate. This high number of Pagodas illustrate the importance of Buddhism in Myanmar’s society. In Myanmar, Buddhism is the official religion, nevertheless Buddhists share their religious authority with the high percentage of Muslims.

Consequently, in 2017, there are still disputes and tensions between the Muslim minority and the Buddhist majority. Historically, the demography of the country does not only consist of Burmese peoples, but also Chinese and Indian immigrants that have settled in Burma in the mid-20th century. In Yangon, a large number of banks, industries and small businesses are owned by Chinese and Indian immigrants which also created tensions. Subsequently, in the mid-20th century, there was a rise in the educational level of the Burmese-middle class and many Burmese students decided to study in Western countries and bring back the acquired knowledge in the country, resulting in the rise of an elite Burmese middle-class. In other words, this elite group of students are the ones that initially brought the idea of democracy in the political dialogue in Myanmar.

Besides, I have had the curiosity to visit the University of Yangon, which is situated at the heart of the economic capital. Indeed, the maxim of the school is to provide a competitive education in order to survive the post-information age. Henceforth, I observed that the University had been modernized with computers and large classrooms. Although it’s true, when visiting the library, one can observe the few quantity of books, the very old traditional library system and the old web based library system.

In sum, the situation in the economic capital is relatively peaceful and Yangon will soon become an important economic capital in Asia if democracy is implemented successfully while development and peace is sustained.

Pourquoi moi?

November 22, 2016 | Daphné, MDG, Myanmar, Le Forum des fédérations

Au fil des semaines, durant mon stage à Yangon, je me suis beaucoup questionné sur la valeur ajoutée d’une/un stagiaire étranger/étrangère pour un organisme local. Puisque je suis au deuxième cycle, je dois écrire un projet de recherche de plus dans le cadre de ce stage. J’ai donc fait une lecture par semaine au sujet d’expériences internationales de courtes durées. J’en ai beaucoup appris, et ces lectures hebdomadaires ont été la source principale des questions puissantes que je me suis posées tout au long de mon séjour au Myanmar.

Les questions qui me reviennent le plus souvent, et qui me dérangent un peu, sont : pourquoi m’engager en tant que stagiaire, eu lieu d’un(e) stagiaire local(e) qui parle déjà birman et anglais et possiblement une des langues minoritaires ? Ne serait-ce pas énormément plus bénéfique pour eux à long terme de former un étudiant d’ici ? Par dessous tout, est-ce que je ‘vole’ une des rares opportunités d’emploi ou d’expérience professionnelle du pays ? On a essayé de plaire à qui en m’envoyant ici?

L’équipe avec laquelle je travaille a pour tâche d’informer la société civile au sujet du fédéralisme et de la démocratie, à travers des centaines d’ateliers partout au pays. Je n’ai pas d’expérience en science politique, et peut-être que cela représente une des raisons pour lesquelles je ne me sens pas aussi utile que je pourrais être, mais j’ai tout de même l’impression que tous les efforts, l’argent, le temps - de ma part, de la part de l’université, de la part de mon organisme à Ottawa et ici - surpassent le niveau d’apprentissage que j’ai acquis et ce que j’ai pu apporter à l’organisme. C’est un sentiment assez déplaisant.

Ironiquement, tout ceci me rend également très heureuse. Le fait que je ne suis pas nécessaire dans mon bureau traduit quelque chose de plus puissant : mon équipe est auto-suffisante. Durant ma première semaine, mon patron m’a dit que c’est une ‘petite équipe, mais une équipe robuste’ et c’est entièrement vrai : ce sont des gens d’ici, qui comprennent l’histoire, la langue et la culture du pays, et qui, malgré le financement du ‘Nord’, n’ont besoin de personne pour diriger leur bureau, et surtout pas d’une stagiaire occidentale. Bien sûr, mon organisme n’est pas sans influence occidentale, puisqu’il a débuté au Canada et y a encore son quartier général, que notre grand patron demeure en Allemagne, et que mon patron birman a fait sa maitrise en science politique en Europe, mais j’admire à tous les jours le travail de mes collègues et du bureau qui est principalement ‘par et pour le Myanmar’.

J’ai également eu un autre type de réalisation dernièrement. Je réalise que je suis venue ici pour mon développement professionnel avant tout. Par contre, je trouve que j’ai principalement accompli des tâches dans lesquels j’excellais déjà, et que je n’ai pas développé beaucoup de nouvelles compétences. Par contre, bien que ce soit important de pouvoir s’épanouir professionnellement dans le cadre d’un stage, ce besoin vient bien loin derrière les besoins de base dans la pyramide de Maslow. Ces besoins de base que beaucoup des citoyens et résidents de mon pays d’accueil ont peine à satisfaire. Alors, je suis qui pour être déçue ou frustrée de ne pas pouvoir rajouter quelques phrases impressionnantes sur mon CV, alors que des milliers de gens au Myanmar dorment sur le plancher de cabanes qui servent aussi pour leur commerce ? Hmm’ouais… je me sens petite dans mes shorts en regardant ma situation sous cet angle.

Si, par mes nombreux rapports, j’aide réellement mon équipe à justifier son financement à nos grands patrons et que je leur enlève le poids de cette tâche monotone afin qu’ils puissent se concentrer sur l’organisation des ateliers et autres tâches plus importantes, est-ce vraiment important que je développe de nouvelles habiletés ? Le but de ma présence ici n’est-il pas d’aider l’organisme local ? Alors, si mes compétences en écriture rendent service à l’organisme, ne devrais-je pas m’en réjouir et me sentir très utile ? C’est plus facile à dire qu’à faire, évidemment. Je suis constamment en débat interne entre ‘je ne développe pas de grandes compétences pour me faire une place en développement international’ et ‘c’est ça le vrai développement, dans le fond, c’est aider où on m’a besoin et pas faire uniquement les tâches qui font mon affaire’. J’ai appris il y a longtemps lors de mes études en criminologie, et maintenant en développement international, que l’aide n’est vraiment utile que lorsque sollicitée. Alors pendant mes dernières semaines à Yangon, je m’efforcerai de mettre mes besoins personnels de côté.

Par contre, le cercle vicieux se referme parce que je me retrouve à me dire qu’un(e) stagiaire local(e) pourrait facilement faire le même travail que moi. Et imaginez ceci : mon organisme avait initialement engagé une stagiaire locale pour m’aider dans mon travail et faire la traduction vers l’anglais des documents écrits en birman (!!!). Elle a rapidement donné sa démission, mais cela laisse tout de même matière à réflexion. Il me semble que c’était moi le pion de trop dans cette équation.

Je ne me plains pas du tout de mon expérience. J’ai appris à devenir plus humble et reconnaissante, à comprendre des dynamiques culturelles complexes, et à poser plus de questions sur les enjeux qui me tiennent à cœur. À chaque jour, j’ai amélioré mes connaissances sur le fédéralisme et la démocratie, en plus de vivre et voyager dans un des plus beaux pays et de côtoyer les gens les plus généreux et gentils de la planète. Malgré tout, je ressens une pression d’être à la hauteur de cette expérience à mon retour au Canada, et de produire quelque chose de grand pour rendre justice à tous ceux qui ont travaillé fort pour que je puisse me retrouver ici.