Equipping Marginalized Youth with the Skills to be Agents for Change

June 21st, 2018 | Stories


Sitting at his desk at a local organization, Aung Than could have never imagined that the decision to leave his home country in search of educational opportunities would have resulted in him fulfilling his career goals of giving back to his community.

Tired of the oppression and lack of opportunities available to young people in Burma, Aung Than left his home in Rakhine State in 2011 and found himself in Mae Sot, Thailand. Mae Sot is home to hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrants and refugees, who, like Aung Than, were seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families.

Aung Than began volunteering for the Arakan Human Rights and Environmental Movement (AHREM), where he heard about higher education programs available in Mae Sot, including Wide Horizons (WH), a highly competitive two-year leadership development program dedicated to building the capacity of young adults from Burma to work in civil society organizations. Convinced that WH would help him achieve his professional goals, Aung Than applied and was accepted in 2014.

To help youth like Aung Than, the Project for Local Empowerment (PLE), with support from World Education, Incorporated (WEI), works with local partner organizations to establish higher education programs along the Thai-Burma border and within Burma. PLE-supported youth leadership programs include the Global Border Studies (GBS) program, the English Immersion Program (EIP), and WH, which convene youth from diverse backgrounds to learn new skills and overcome problems facing their communities. These 1-2 year residential programs immerse students in the English language and build their knowledge and skills in community development, computer literacy, conflict resolution, critical thinking, and peace-building. The programs differ in their specialization, with GBS focusing on conflict resolution, EIP on teacher training and translation, and WH on project management. At the end of their coursework, each program helps place its students in year-long internships in which the students can apply their learning in real-life settings.

After Aung Than graduated, he was hired by the school as an administrative assistant to help new cohorts of young people navigate the program. During the 2015-2016 academic year, 67 young leaders graduated from PLE-supported programs. This year also marks the first time that students graduated from leadership programs within Burma, after EIP moved its school to Karen State. Seeing the success of the EIP program, many higher education programs are considering moving back into Burma to ensure that youth like Aung Than no longer have to cross borders to seek higher educational opportunities.

Like many before them, these new graduates will take positions in local, national, and international organizations in Thailand and Burma. They’ll use their new skills to improve health care systems, advocate for education, develop innovative ways to help people with small businesses, or help youth like themselves become agents for change. Other graduates will become teachers in remote areas of Burma or become translators and interpreters. No matter the jobs they take, these youth, as result of these programs, will be well-equipped to resolve problems and bring about creative ways to improve their communities and countries.

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