Diakonia - People change the world
The people of Kyaw Thura Aung's community does not fear the future as much as they used to. Just a short time ago, people were afraid to even approach the authorities. But now, things are slowly changing in Myanmar/Burma. Photo: David Isaksson

Kyaw – a young leader in a changing country

Kyaw Thura Aung in Myanmar/Burma is a passionate change maker who is working courageously alongside others so that people living in poverty can gain power over their own lives.

11/5/2013 Publisher: Magdalena Ackeberg

From military dictatorship to openness?

The village where Kyaw Thura Aung lives has 200 inhabitants and is situated four hours by car from the biggest city in Myanmar/Burma, Rangoon. The houses are simple. Most are built on stilts slightly above ground. There is a strong sense of community.

Two national tragedies

When Kyaw was elected Secretary General of a network of village councils run with support from Diakonia, Myanmar/Burma had just endured two of the worst incidents it had seen for a long time: the Saffron Revolution, which started among the country’s monks and was brutally repressed by the military regime, and Cyclone Nargis, which devastated villages and cities and killed more than 100,000 people.

Now, Myanmar/Burma is on the brink of change. Fear has reduced its grip on people. But can a country shift from 50 years of brutal military dictatorship to joyful openness in just a few months?

Sense of community effects change

Kyaw Thura Aung is young. At first, he gives a slightly bashful impression, but later I understand that he is a person who only speaks when he has something important to say.

"When I was proposed as Secretary General, I didn’t really know what to say. After all, I was only just over 20 years old, and there were many other people who were much older and more knowledgeable than I was. But then I thought that if they really want me, then I’ll give it a try."

Today, Kyaw Thura Aung bears main responsibility for carrying out the programmes supported by Diakonia.

"There is a good sense of community here, and many young people are interested and involved in what's going on. We are working together to improve the situation," says Kyaw Thura Aung.

Micro-credits a key priority

The many years of military rule have put the brakes on economic development in Myanmar/Burma. The village council has therefore prioritised the provision of micro-credits for small investments in order to strengthen families. The programme of micro-credits was also sufficiently innocuous and therefore possible to implement, even during years of harsh military rule. Micro-credits also have a crucial secondary effect in that they contribute to people organizing themselves.

Kyaw Thura Aung is optimistic about the future. He dreams of having a school close by that takes students up to 10th grade and to which families can send their children. Better access to healthcare is also on the list. But how do you construct a dialogue with authorities in a country that has been governed by various military juntas for 50 years?

Progress made in development

Despite everything, people in the village are cautious; no one knows for sure what will happen. The military have previously hit back at the democracy movement – could it happen again?

"Previously, we had no support at all. Today, we cooperate with others and get help from external sources so that we can develop our agriculture and our villages. And we can definitely see the difference," says Kyaw Thura Aung.