Prospect Burma Guest Blog: Why the FCDO Should Refocus on Marginalised Communities in Myanmar

28 July 2021

This week, to close out our month long focus on education in our partner countries, HART is pleased to share a blog from our friends at Prospect Burma. Prospect Burma is a UK registered educational charity investing in a positive future for Myanmar through its young people. Please enjoy their special guest blog:

Myanmar is a beautiful land in big trouble. Many countries around the world are struggling with the challenges of COVID-19 but in Myanmar the situation is especially grim. Medical staff and patients are avoiding hospitals as they hide from a military takeover of power; over 900 civilians have been killed and more than 5,000 detained; and public health services have collapsed in many parts of the country. Only 3% of people have been vaccinated, and the pandemic is presently spreading, little checked and unmonitored. Every day is bringing reports of new deaths and new outbreaks and, on present trends, hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk.

In this vacuum, relatives, friends and community service organisations are doing their best to supply oxygen to the sick. But, with curfew orders in place, they risk being shot or detained in order to smuggle oxygen cylinders between houses. Supplies are strictly limited and, with conflict deepening, there is little information flow and inter-communication on how to address the spread of the virus. Many communities are living in fear.

A handful of international humanitarian organisations are doing the best where they can amid the security blockages. Help is desperately needed right now, but most of the major international donors suspended aid funding in the aftermath of the military takeover, and this emergency response approach is not sustainable indefinitely.

Similarly, campaigning organisations are focussing on the political response at regional, national and international levels. But this approach also addresses the emergency of ‘now’. It is not designed to build skills capacity, resilience, and solutions to suffering of which there is no end in sight.

We need to recognise that the horrors of today in Myanmar are only the start and that, tragically, the situation could very well get worse in the coming months and years. COVID-19 and internal civil war are a disastrous combination. We need to be planning for these months and years now, so that we can give at least give a chink of light at the end of the tunnel to all those dealing with disease and violence on the front line.

That light comes in the form of greater capacity among Burmese people to tackle the issues themselves. This means more people with the critical thinking skills to analyse, negotiate and solve; and more people with the professional skills to apply knowledge and build societal and physical infrastructure on the ground.

In other words, the medical sector for example doesn’t just need doctors and equipment. It needs people to identify gaps, plan and create entire frameworks, and to train workers. It also needs every sector of industry involved in health supply and delivery chains to develop that capacity.

This is where foreign aid donors and governments can help. Burmese people urgently need education, which, for the present, is barely available inside the country. The majority of Myanmar schools are empty, and state education largely teaches rote learning using outdated syllabuses rather than imagination, evaluation and negotiation. It does not encourage innovators, change-makers or leaders.

But many other education systems in the world do encourage critical and creative thinking. Other nations already have these systems and the facilities to upskill Myanmar’s Generation Z to tackle the problems of the next few years rather than remain passive victims. During a time of national breakdown, all sympathetic donors need to do is subsidise tuition fees and study expenses, because many people in Myanmar simply can’t afford to study, let alone abroad. It’s expensive by Myanmar families’ standards but, in international aid terms, it is a remarkably cheap and simple intervention.

The approach works. Since its 1989 foundation, the UK charity Prospect Burma has supported 1,400 young Myanmar people to gain university level qualifications abroad. They have gone on to be national pacesetters in the country in diverse fields, including peacekeeping negotiations, medicine, telecommunications infrastructure and education.

What is more, these change-makers have proved during the past three decades that they can succeed in the country regardless of whether it is under democratic or military rule. Some are living in urban areas while others are working in the ethnic borderlands. Some are experienced in diplomacy;  others are changing the way entire villages grow food or protect the environment. Still others are innovators in communications, education and the provision of health care.

If that is the difference that 1,400 people can make – out of a 54 million population – then imagine that multiplied six-fold? Imagine up to 10,000 change-makers spread across the different states and regions of Myanmar to promote harmony between the different peoples. Each would spread their knowledge and skills again and again in a multiplier effect in the uncertain years to come.

This approach will work for both the medium and long term. It provides a ground-up solution which addresses the fact that those ‘at the bottom’ are the first to suffer when disasters like COVID-19, Cyclone Nargis or civil war happen.

The power of education is that it harnesses the power of people. It is so much stronger than political statements or sanctions, and it is already within the gift of foreign donors and governments to convey that power to ordinary people in Myanmar. For the sake of its people’s future, please use it.

You can learn more about Prospect Burma’s work here.

HART has supported educational programmes in Northern Thailand and Burma since 2006 and continues to support Loi Tai Leng School  and Loi Htat Nursery on both sides of the Thai-Burma border.

Although all blog posts are reviewed by an editorial team, our blog authors all write in a personal capacity and the views expressed are not necessarily those of HART.

Back to News

Help our local partners realise their vision of hope for their communities