Ko Phyo is a smiley optimistic young man with the wisdom of someone much older. Ko Phyo loved attending school when he was young, but when he was in high school his father became unable to work. With three siblings, Ko Phyo decided that he wanted to help support his family, so he left his home in Bago Division and traveled to Yangon to work for an air conditioner company. He soon yearned for further learning and more opportunities to help prevent his people from suffering like he did. So, he found a job with the Myanmar Council of Churches where he could work during the day and study at the Myanmar Institute of Theology at night. Ko Phyo has come to now study at ERSB, because as he says, “learning never ends.”

During his needs assessment, Ko Phyo ran into some challenges. He initially started his project thinking he would educate people to prepare them for a new cement factory. However, after doing extensive interviews with the...

At the age of 14, Thum Ai left home on his own to go live in China as a migrant worker, washing cars and working at an ice cream factory. He did this in hopes that he could earn enough money to enable him to go to high school. Unfortunately he could not, so when he returned home two years later he worked as a logger helping to earn money for his family. Despite this difficult and grueling work, he still could not make enough money to attend school. During that time many of his friends were leaving Shan state to go to Thailand; some because of limited opportunities and others looking to escape forced enlistment into the army. Thum Ai decided that better opportunities might await him in Thailand, so journeyed from home by himself once again. While working in Thailand as a mechanic, Thum Ai took every opportunity to further his education. This lead him to attend an environmental awareness training. After the meeting, he felt such an overwhelming...

It was a hot, humid day in Can Tho, the biggest city in Mekong delta, when I was traveling from the land to Son Island. Even though it was only 15 minutes from the city, just a few of local people know about it. Maybe, it’s not an attractive place for tourism. I was brought there by Delta Youth Alliance group. Organized by Mekong school alumnus 2008 – Ly Quoc Dang, Delta Youth Alliance is a group of young people come from many places in Mekong Delta. Most of them are Can Tho university’s students. Some students are studying Environment, some are not, but they all share common interest in getting involved in environmental issues.

Thus, the trip to Son Island was a field trip to experience how the life of farmers there and what challenges they are facing. Son Island was known as “Five No:” no clean water, no electricity, no road, no school and no health care center. People there just reached clean water last few...

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis killed an estimated 138,000 people in Myanmar. After witnessing the suffering and turmoil during the aftermath, Sandi made up her mind to work to improve the lives of people living in rural communities. A good friend of Sandi’s was swept away by a flood with her two year old baby in her arms. In her struggle to stay afloat, she was knocked unconscious while grabbing onto a piece of driftwood. When she awoke, her baby was gone. It was the many stories like these that gave Sandi the resolve to work to create a better environment and life for those living in rural areas. In the past few years, Sandi has had an increased interest in politics, feeling as though nowadays civilians might actually have some ability to influence the government. She attended the EarthRights School Burma to learn to integrate her environmental knowledge with key political awareness about issues such as human rights and rule of law. 

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Mai Mai has always been a tenacious, self-motivated individual. In his youth, he started a library in his community to help improve education.  He went on to work for a faith based organization called Kachin Urban Rural Mission.  Due to decades of civil war in Kachin State, allegiances lie in many different places, politically, however faith based organizations serve as unifiers for the community, according to Mai Mai.  Throughout his experiences, Mai Mai has seen the importance of unity.  He vividly remembers how key it was to a community that successfully prevented their forest from being destroyed by a company, a rare success in a country where land grabbing is all to common.  

Mai Mai felt drawn to the plight of people who have been removed from their land, so for his needs assessment, he traveled to Maliyang village, a relocation site for villagers displaced because of the Myitzone Dam.  Though the dam has been suspended, the villagers are still not permitted to return...

Bo Law was 7 years old when fighting erupted between the Kachin Independence Army and the Burmese Military in his village. Bo law, his pregnant mother, aunt and three year old brother fled into the jungle as their home and surrounding village was engulfed in flames. His father was not seen since. After living in the jungle for three months, his mother passed away while in labor. The rest of the family continued living in the jungle for over 3 years, constantly moving to avoid the military. Bo Law frequently had to carry his little brother, who, at the age of 3, was often two weak to handle the journey. The family fed themselves on what scrap they could find in the forest. When they got wind that the military situation started to calm down, 3 years after they first fled their burning village, they thought it might be safe to return, but upon arrival they saw that they had no family left, so journeyed to Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State.

Bo Law eventually made it to a...

New report: Women urge halt to expansion of damaging Karenni tin mines  

The Mawchi tin mines have inflicted decades of environmental and social damage in southern Karenni State and new expansion plans should be halted, according to a new report by a network of local women. Lost paradise, by the Molo Women Mining Watch Network, details how hundreds of mine tunnels spanning about 3,000 acres have caused lethal landslides, water pollution and deforestation, impacting about 4,500 indigenous villagers. Health problems, loss of farmlands and depletion of water sources, including the Molo stream that flows through Mawchi into the Salween River, have particularly impacted women. Many are now eking a living as nugget collectors around the mines. 

Locals are gravely worried by government plans announced in August 2012 to expand the mines, as world demand increases for tin. The mines are jointly controlled by No. 2 Mining Ministry and the military-owned Union...

Dahlia is a young ethnic Wa woman from Northern Shan State. Vibrant and bubbly, she brightens any room she is in with her infectious laughter. As Dahlia grew up, she watched as many youth left Wa region to work along the Burma-China border as day laborers. With the majority of Wa people sustaining themselves through farming, there are few opportunities for them and low concern for education, since people’s primary concern is their day-to-day survival. Some of the villages in Wa region, are almost completely devoid of people aged 16-30, Dahlia says. After witnessing this phenomenon all her life, Dahlia decided that she wanted to improve the livelihood and create more opportunities for Wa people,so they won’t be forced to move out of the region.

She has spent several years working for the Wa Youth Center and came to study at the Burma school to enhance her understanding of environmental protection, since most of Wa people’s livelihood...

The Social Development Center class of 2012 has graduated! After several months of courses on research, human rights, project monitoring and other topics, the students are ready to pursue their own projects. Graduation was attended by various community leaders, SDC Director Aung San Myint, ERI'S Asia Office Director Chana Maung and volunteers from abroad. 

 “I am very proud of our students' achievements in promoting and protecting human rights and the environment in Karenni State. The objectives of the training are to improve young people's skills who are willing to dedicate their time and knowledge for own community and to be able to manage organizations by themselves or take leadership roles in their communities."

“You all studied hard and we believe you can take one step towards becoming a young leader for your community and you can learn a lot more from your experiences while working in the community.”

Said the students,

“We all heard about...

“The activists we have produced from the SDC have been not only important for the ethnic community, but I strongly believe that they will become leaders of change for future democratic country of Burma”

The first thing you notice about Aung Sun Myint is not the man himself but the respect he gleans from those around him. Quickly after speaking with him, you can soon see why, as he exudes a broad and wide ranging knowledge, shrewd leadership skills and an unshakable commitment to the well-being of his people. He has an air of quiet gravity that gives way to infectious laughter as he tells colorful stories; artfully weaving together the struggles for...

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