By Claire J Cowman
The lush hillsides of Kalaw, the ancient temples of Bagan, and the floating villages of Inle Lake are flashing in my memories. Those were the memories during my volunteer experience in Myanmar, through the Australian Volunteers Program, as the Communications and Partnership Development Advisor with Pandita Development Institute (Pandita), based in Yangon, Myanmar.
While I was living in Myanmar, I learned about the beauty of this incredible country and its people. I also discovered and strengthened my shared passion with Pandita - to advocate for, and support the country's continued transition toward a peaceful, harmonious, and democratic society.
I enjoyed the rich tastes of iconic Burmese dishes such as ‘Lapeht Thoke’ (Green Tea Leaf Salad), and I forged friendships with the most wonderful people, from near and afar.
I had the privilege of working with my colleagues at Pandita, who began their work as activists in the latter days of the harsh struggle for democracy and human rights under military dictatorship. Today, they are passionate pro-democracy advocates who have come together to contribute to the country’s transition to democracy through promoting civic engagement.
During my time with Pandita, I worked closely with the Executive Director - ChamTha Kyaw, and Creative Director - Aye Khaing. Each day, we coordinated communications and external affairs activities and connected and collaborated with like-minded partner organisations, both regionally and internationally. Ultimately, such partnerships enable more outstanding advocacy and support for civil society organisations in the pro-democracy space in Myanmar.
Photo: Aye Khaing (left) and ChamTha Kyaw (right) participating in a workshop, hosted by Kivu International and International Development Research Centre.
The Pandita team devote their time to serving citizens by raising civic awareness among the younger generations and civil society leaders. One of their initiatives, 'Civics Now', regularly reaches its audience of over 330,000, via Facebook. By utilising an online civic education approach, this platform inspires and educates Myanmar youth on a variety of topics related to democracy.
Meanwhile, another key initiative, 'The Myanmar Bulletin', consistently reaches hundreds of civil society leaders, activists, and elected officials, by providing information and updates on relevant political dialogues and topics.
With the 2020 Myanmar General Election in mind (scheduled for November 2020), Pandita's work toward advocacy and education on Democracy in Myanmar is essential in enabling a space for civil society to shape critical decisions for Myanmar’s future.
Throughout my volunteer experience in Yangon, I gained an understanding and appreciation for the organisation’s strategic pillars; to empower, to connect, and to influence. These pillars are the foundations for informing citizens and enabling a political environment towards meaningful civic participation in a democratic society.
Photo: My lunchbreak stroll through the bustling streets of downtown Yangon.
During my time in Myanmar, I learned about the complexities that come with the history and context of Myanmar and the importance of Pandita’s work in this space.
I was also humbled by the opportunity to experience the magnificence of Myanmar culture. Not only did I travel to see the wonders of the country, I attempted to learn the beautiful yet complex Burmese language, enjoyed the rich tastes of iconic Burmese dishes, such as ‘Lapeht Thoke’ (Green Tea Leaf Salad), and forged friendships with the most wonderful people, from near and afar.
Unfortunately, my time in Myanmar ended early due to the COVID 19 Pandemic, however, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend 6 months partnering with Pandita; to work alongside such a passionate, capable team, and for a cause that is more important than ever; the protection and promotion of democracy in Myanmar.
Claire J Cowman works as a Field Experience Program Advisor at World Vision Australia. With half a decade of experience in fundraising and communications in the non-profit sector, she has contributed her volunteering in Argentina, Australia, Cambodia, Myanmar, and South Africa.