The three-day student and youth exchange program which was entitled 'Karen student and youth exchanging their experience and perspective on peace, education, and environment' took place from June 23 to 25 in T' Ku Kee village, Noh Ta Kaw (Kyar In) Township, Dooplaya District, Karen State in Burma.
The event was organized by the Karen Student Network Group (KSNG) and co-financed by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), with KESAN playing a role in facilitation. A total of 40 participants (15 females; 25 males) from 12 villages in 3 townships (e.g. Noh Ta Kaw, Waw Raw, and Kru Tu) in Dooplaya District, as well as participants from Mutraw District and refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border attended. These youth participants represented the Karen Youth Organization (KYO), Hku Po Ka Paw, KSNG and local Karen youths from villages.
KSNG is an independent Karen student organization established on July 6, 1996. It aims to support Karen students and youths to play a key role in the struggle of a free and democratic Burma/Myanmar. KSNG conducts useful and relevant activities, as well as mobilizes and empowers Karen students and youths to fight against injustice and inequality. Upholding the democratic principles, KSNG's general election is held every two years based on its administrative structure- the executive committee is comprised of the chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary, joint-secretary, and treasurer. KSNG has 10 member network organizations which operate in 7 Karen refugee camps and inside Mutraw (Papun) District in Karen State, Burma.
Since Karen student and youth's engagement and participation in current peacebuilding between the Karen National Union (KNU) and Burmese government is critical, this event aimed to create a platform for Karen students and youth from different areas in Dooplaya District as well as from other places in Karen State and Karen refugee camps on the Thailand-Burma border. The goal was for these youth to discuss, share, and exchange their experiences and perspectives on the current peace process, positive and negative impacts of peacebuilding process on Karen education system, and environmental impacts of large-scale developments in Karen State.
As student and youth's engagement in peacebuilding in Burma is vital, P'doh Saw Liston from KNU acknowledged the importance of student and youth participation in the peace process. He stated that they will be the leaders of the Karen people in the future, and he also shared and updated the current peace process situation.
Saw Ba Na Yar, a youth participant from Kyar In working with the Hku Po Ka Paw organization, said that this was the first time an event like this was organized in this area and that he and other local youths benefited a lot from it. Saw Ba Na Yar stipulated that this event helped students and youth from different places to connect, cooperate, and share real life experiences and problems (e.g. the annexation of the Karen territory by Burmese government through educational-related activities, implementation of large-scale development projects, and reinforcement of more Burmese troops in Karen areas) that have occurred in their respective areas.
Saw Hsa Nay Thaw, a teacher training in charge of the Karen Education Department (KED), explained that the challenge that the KED encountered during the peace process was that the Burmese government dispatched more of their teachers in KED-governed schools along with providing competitive salaries, government curriculum, and better school constructions. Hsa Nay Thaw also stressed that Burmese government teachers did not perform at a high level, because the majority of them only completed standard 9 and 10. Another major problem was that these teachers were often absent from classes which has created obstacles to the students ability to learn.
Naw Oasis, a secretary of the KNU's Department of Organizing and Information (DOI) from Noh Ta Kaw Township, stressed that during the peace process, the Burmese government has granted concessions to large-scale development projects in Karen State. These projects have included road construction work, logging, and mining activities undertaken by domestic as well as foreign companies that have had negative impacts on local village communities' livelihoods, plantation fields, and have led to environmental degradation.
Both Naw Oasis and Saw Ba Na Yar urged greater Karen student and youth consultation in the future in order to empower and encourage them to raise their voices and strengthen their networks. They should help promote the Karen education system and protect environmental resources in an efficient and sustainable manner. After the event, 40 Karen student and youth expressed their hopes and expectations in the following points:
We would like…;
- To have genuine and sustainable peace that results in greater equality, rights, and mutual respect, uniting all Karen armed groups under KNU's leadership and principles, and allows Karen people to be justly governed by Karen leaders, and brings about the cessation of fighting.
- To have Karen curriculum taught in Karen schools with an emphasis on Karen literature and history, as well as a Karen education forum
- Development projects managed, controlled and undertaken by the Karen people that will benefit the general Karen public in a sustainable manner.