Changing Perspectives in Myanmar
How a civic education class created a peace advocate in Rakhine State
Moe Moe Myint is a Buddhist from Rakhine State, Myanmar’s western region bordering Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal that is currently experiencing dramatic ethnic and religious conflict. She traveled to Yangon in early 2018 to take courses at the Institute for Political and Civic Engagement (iPACE), which was established in 2012 to bolster knowledge and practical application of democratic principles and promote citizen engagement in Myanmar’s new democracy.
Upon her arrival in the nation’s largest city, Moe Moe Myint was impressed by the diversity of her classmates at iPACE and the city itself. “I see people with different ethnicities and religions working and studying, and communicating and coexisting peacefully together,” she says. These are very different circumstances than in her divided home state.
Moe Moe Myint found herself questioning whether things could be different.
“During the course, for the first time I started asking, ‘Why are people with different religions fighting with each other? Why do people die because of these conflicts? Can we not possibly build a peaceful society in Rakhine?’” she asks. “The only answer I have to these questions is ‘education.’ The people in Rakhine are not well-educated, nor are they properly educated. The lessons and experiences they have been exposed to throughout their life are not for peace, but for conflict.”
She knows because she experienced it firsthand.
“I used to hate other religions especially Muslims,” Moe Moe Myint says. “I now realize that all the teachers who taught me in my life were extremists, and they taught me to do so.”
Now Moe Moe Myint wants to help promote peace and diversity instead. She’s a member of the Rakhine Women’s Union, which advocates for women’s human rights and supports their development as leaders in society. Her role with the union brought her to iPACE, where she recently completed a Peace Education course as a scholarship recipient.
The iPACE Peace Education course explores how peace can be achieved at a community level. It helps participants develop mediation, dialogue, and conflict analysis skills, and it encourages them to define their roles in building peace that’s sustainable. The course emphasizes the need for inclusive peace-building initiatives that recognize the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities, and ethnic and minority groups.
In the final week of their course, participants were asked to identify and present one critical value of peace education. Moe Moe Myint partnered with a Muslim woman from Yangon. Sitting together, these two women told their classmates about their shared core value — a far cry from the views Moe Moe Myint had once held: “Co-existing for a better society.”
When she returns to Rakhine, Moe Moe Myint plans to educate young people about the importance of peace, tolerance, and diversity. She hopes it will make a difference. “Now I have a strong aim,” she says. “I will become a peacemaker.”
— Amy McKeever and Maung Maung Pyae Zone
Amy McKeever is the writer/editor at World Learning; Maung Maung Pyae Zone is the Assistant Director of World Learning Myanmar