Burma: a brighter future?
Director of Communications and Fundraising, BBC Media Action
I'm just back from Burma, also known as Myanmar, where I met the team who put together radio show Lin Lat Kyair Sin (Bright Young Stars). Designed for a new era in the country, it offers an unprecedented opportunity for young people to exchange ideas and talk to each other.
The 18-35 age range of the production crew matches its audience. Project Coordinator Yan Htaik Seng is passionate about the way the programme works: “We are challenging social norms and discussing issues that were unheard of [before]: women's rights, gay rights, talking about what democracy means, encouraging people to get active and involved."
"In one programme on disability we profiled a 13-year old girl from the Delta region. She managed to get medical treatment for her paralysed legs [through one of our non-governmental organisation partners Actionaid] and gained enough mobility to attend school."
"She got so much out of her new-found education and her love of books that she organised a mobile library that could fit on a small boat. She would row to neighbouring villages taking the books with her."
The new-found opportunity to share information and participate in community life is tempered by concerns about how deep and sustainable this new period of openness really can be. With elections set for 2015, will it last?
The heavily censorial and prohibitive past is a recent memory. "When I was a boy I lived in fear," Yan says. "Talk of democracy didn’t mean freedom, it meant jail. In my family we didn’t have electricity nor access to information. I didn't know what was happening in another part of the country, let alone the world. My parents told not to be curious, and that life would be easier if I didn’t ask questions."
A new generation
But Yan was curious. He got hold of books and would watch TV at a neighbour's house. When high school beckoned, he persuaded his father to allow him to leave his childhood home in the remote Sian state on the border of Thailand and China, which he describes as "a dark world, much cut off".
He moved in with an uncle in the capital Yangon and his life started to open up. When the devastating Cyclone Nargis hit in 2008, he volunteered for relief work in the flattened Delta region.
"It really changed me. I’m not a medic but I was able to provide basic food and support. There was no access to healthcare and people just didn't know what to do or how to take care of themselves, they were too poor to go to hospital."
"Two things especially struck me: there was a child in a broken hut. The structure was very weak. Until I saw this I hadn’t realised people were that poor – that they couldn’t even afford basic food or shelter. I realised at that moment that I had had no awareness of life as it was being lived for so many."
"The other lasting image was of dead bodies and of people in shock. I thought people would be crying but they were actually numb. It led me to explore how I might help. First I joined a youth group and we started to try and educate people about basic but important things. And then it brought me to BBC Media Action."
LLKS' Yan Htaik Seng.
Hope for change
It's stories like these, illustrating a new sense of agency and action on the part of a young and more optimistic generation, that makes LLKS so powerful.
Ahead of the elections set for 2015 the programme is showing people change is possible.
Both the girl in the boat of books and Yan in his relief work in the Delta embody the spirit of Bright Young Stars and help sustain hopes that a new era has begun.
Related linksGo back to BBC Media Action