It has been a very long time since Myanmar was known for its education. In the 1940’s when the country was losing its grip on its colonial status, people from elsewhere in Southeast Asia would flock to then-Burma for the quality of its academic programmes. Decades of dictatorship changed this, leaving most to never realize their dreams of attaining an education, whilst the fortunate few managed to obtain diplomas abroad.
Since the 1940s, Myanmar’s education, politics and economics was in a downwards spiral, the vast majority of its population encountered poverty, political oppression and limited access to schooling. However, it was exactly these three phenomena that led to the resilience and resourcefulness of Myanmar’s youngsters whose autodidactism allowed them to pursue education abroad, often in Thailand. For former student Pao Hom, who benefited from support provided by the We women foundation, this was no different.
Pao Hom’s experience of attending school in Myanmar in the 1980s and 1990s was disappointing. “At an early age, [she] was bored with [her] studies, believing the Burmese educational system did not challenge [her]”. She remembers “spending long hours memorising paragraphs from text books only to be rehearsed in front of [her] teacher the next day.” Here experiences of studying in Myanmar where no exception to the rule, and this dissatisfaction and disappointment with the country’s educational and political system is what spurred other students to dream of - and realize their dreams – of attending school elsewhere. For Pao Hom this meant leaving Myanmar as soon as she saw the opportunity. During her bachelors, she had worked at her aunt’s shop, trying to save up for her masters. Her fervour and determination to get a masters in Educational Management I in Thailand were noticed by members of the We women foundation, who consecutively provided her with the remainder of the financial resources needed to realize her goal. While enrolled in the program, Pao Hom volunteered with the internally displaced and migrant populations in Thailand.
After her studies, Pao Hom initially trained hundreds of teachers, believing that “through a more creative curriculum, we can encourage children to think for themselves, share their opinions, and learn to follow their aspirations.” By doing this, she has made an attempt of countering the constraints students felt as a result of Myanmar’s educational system, that she witnessed when she was younger.
After graduating she worked so hard that she is currently participating in the actual peace dialogue that is held between the political parties, and ethnic armed groups. She has also pressed for women participation and gender equality as an agenda point. She is now working with UN Women and Euro Burma Office to organise round the table discussions with women who can participate in the process. Although she is not working on education per se, she is able to contribute to change by working for various stakeholders to build a more sustainable and equitable peace process in her country.
The initial limitations people like Pao Hom felt as a result of Myanmar’s policy, contributed to their determination to realize their goals and see improvements in their home countries. This had lead to Pao Hom’s resilience and resourcefulness, which not only impacted her personally but also helped to spur on the autodidact and academic careers of Myanmar’s younger generation – showing that We women help women lead.