3 min read
Let me tell you about Phyo, Cherry and Hugo. These aren’t their real names, for security reasons. But they are three very real – and very talented – young people who live in Myanmar.
Phyo dreamed of becoming a doctor. She applied to a charity called Prospect Burma for financial support to qualify. She studied a master’s degree abroad and returned to Yangon, where she became head of her hospital department.
Cherry and Hugo also applied to Prospect Burma, for support to study Communications and Policy & Governance Master’s respectively. They both studied abroad and returned home to get jobs with NGOs.
It was while working in Yangon that the three met and discussed their dreams over steaming bowls of thick mohinga in the city’s downtown. Phyo was the most senior, and had the most respected role as a medical professional. She was frustrated at her lack of ability to prevent people in the city getting sick and having to attend hospital in the first place.
Hugo understood. His Policy & Governance Master’s had taught him how to research where problems lay and how to put effective mitigations in place. Problems could be solved. But he was only one person. Preventing disease needs lots of people to spread the word.
This is where Cherry came in. Her master’s degree had taught her creative design and writing. It also taught her how to work out strategy, messaging and different communication routes to best contact people.
Yangon has always been a base for organisations working to help communities across Myanmar. But they often assume the centre of the city reflects the city as a whole. People in disadvantaged districts in Yangon’s suburbs are often invisible to outsiders.
But Phyo, Cherry and Hugo knew the city well. To its north, they knew of Shwepyithar, a township of around 300,000 residents. Households there often live cramped together under corrugated iron roofs, in the shadow of industrial zones upon which they rely for daily uncontracted wages. If anyone had created a health record for this township, it would be poor.
The three graduates continued to meet weekly at local street food stalls. Phyo provided medical advice which Cherry converted into printed and audio form to disseminate. The information focussed on hygiene, nutrition and early treatment of common illnesses before they became serious.
Along with Hugo, the three graduates identified many small things which could make a big difference. Hugo contacted local companies for help to procure toothpaste, sanitary products, antiseptic creams and more. They set up an advice centre through which they identified the most vulnerable people, and got those essential items to where they were needed.
This all happened just as COVID-19 began. Hugo was lucky to also procure thousands of face masks. It is likely that Phyo, Cherry and Hugo saved hundreds of people from unnecessary suffering, and probably saved at least dozens of lives too.
So how did this all happen?
There are many more amazing young people with a strong determination to make a difference. For Phyo, Cherry and Hugo, the turning point was having an organisation to support them to each take a Master’s Degree, which gave them the level of skills and knowledge they needed.
Before COVID-19 and the coup in Myanmar, around 80 per cent of young people left school with no exam qualifications at all. That figure has dropped even further since. This means there are many young people who can read, write and do maths. But there are few who can methodically analyse issues, create complex solutions, deliver those solutions, and inject innovation and real change into communities.
Just a small number of young people gaining master’s degrees in a range of subjects can help thousands of people, as Phyo, Cherry and Hugo have shown.
Myanmar’s higher education system has collapsed due to a combination of COVID-19, the 2021 coup and ongoing conflict. But its young people can still study abroad if someone supports them. These young people can then have immense impact, using their skills and knowledge to insulate the most vulnerable against natural and manmade disasters ahead.
These young people just need equally amazing and foresighted individuals and organisations across Asia to see that impact in advance; and to help them gain the skills and knowledge they need. Could that people or person by you? Contact email@example.com to find out more.