In 2021, our previous Alumni Officer, Nasa Dip, interviewed Htun Linn, a 2019 AAYLF delegate and Program Director of Youth Empowerment and Community Development Studies at Pichaung Institute, about his work as a director of a community development institute for young people in Rakhine state.
Tell us about yourself and your work:
My name is Htun Linn, and I am from the Rakhine state, Myanmar. I am a Program Director of Youth Empowerment and Community Development Studies at Pichaung Institute and an Alumni of AASYP’s 2019 ASEAN-Australia Youth Leadership Forum.
Could you tell us about your work in Youth Empowerment and Community Development Studies (YECDS) and its impact on your society?
This is a project that I wanted to accomplish when I finished my graduate studies. It is a one-year diploma program for young people in the Rakhine state. It has three semesters with the main focus on English Language, Business Management, and Administration; and minor subjects of Political Ideology and International Relations, Basic/Advanced Computer Course, Sustainable Development, Peace and Conflict Studies, 21st Century skills, Community Project Management, and Environmental Studies. We have scholarship-sharing opportunities and knowledge-sharing sessions with international youths. We create the chance for students to exchange knowledge and experiences with other students from educational institutions domestically and abroad; and provide them with free accommodation, education, and food throughout their studies.
Most of the young people in the Rakhine state can’t speak English, so I wanted them to have knowledge of English, learn their strengths and weaknesses, and communicate with young people internationally to have the ability to be independent and find opportunities. I want to ensure young people can lead the future of our community. In our community, there is no independent college/university except government colleges/universities – I will work to have a college/university that international standards will accept.
What were the main challenges you faced during the project implementation? Has the current situation in your country affected your plan, or have you successfully adapted to the recent challenges?
When I started, I didn’t have a budget, only desire. Pichaung Institute, a community-based organisation, supported me with the necessary equipment for running the program, such as a classroom, two hostels for the students, and so on. At the time, we didn’t have enough logistics to support students, and we tried to find people willing to provide financially; they also had the same desire as me and were ready to walk together on this path. The current situation doesn’t directly affect the institute, but it generally affects the job market in society, thus impacting the financial help for the project. I am now trying to cut budget spending and focus on the only necessary things.
Following up on the current situation, from your perspective, can you tell our readers about the exact situation in Myanmar? And what impact is the coup having?
In Myanmar, we have eight ethnic groups Burmese, Rakhine, Kachin, Kayin, Chin, Shan, Mon, and Kayar – I am a Rakhine ethnic. The National League for Democracy’s (NLD) political party favours Burmese people more than other ethnic groups – this caused other ethnic groups to create their armies and civil wars, especially in the Rakhine state.
The Myanmar Military took power from the civilian government in 2021. In February 2021, the military arrested Daw Aung San Su Kyi, Former State Counsellor of Myanmar, and other civilian government leaders. Young people, women, and children are dying, which has led to people leading civil disobedience movements against the military.
The worst conditions are in Yangon, Mandalay, and other parts of Myanmar since the Myanmar Military controls them.
The military has blocked private media such as Khit Thit Media, The Irrawaddy, Mizzima, AkonThi, and others to stop the new army’s actions from being released to the public.
What is the youth’s role during this time?
Young people are very active against the military because they do not want the military to take control. Young people know how to use social media even when the military tries to stop them by cutting internet access. They post on social media about their situations, share information with the world, and ask for help to fight the military. Young people have asked the United Nations, ASEAN, and the US for help and even referred to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
They join protests and use their knowledge in different ways to go against the military. During the movement, they stopped protesting against the military and asked the ethnic armies to train them and build their armies in their respective communities. Almost every day, fights happen between Myanmar Military and the PDF around Myanmar; having their armies will help protect themselves and their communities.
How can the international community, specifically international youth, come together to support situations like what is happening in Myanmar?
International youth can help to share the information and communicate with other countries, NGOs, and actors with significant power that can help Myanmar. The military does not want this information to go global, so trying to deliver accurate information to the world and influential actors in other countries is a great way.
From the international community, there should be more actions and not only just statements; they should take action against the military, for example, removing visas or limiting the movement of the military. If they don’t take any action, the military will continue their actions against the people in Myanmar.
What changes have you seen in your community in the last decade?
The original name of Rakhine is Arakan. It was a kingdom for over 5000 years. In the last decade, there hasn’t been any reliable political organisation or party that could influence Arakanese (Rakhine People) and did not have the power to bring peaceful conditions to our community.
Now, there is a strong and influential army with active Arakanese youths named the Arakan Army (AA), founded in Kachin State in 2009, intending to fight for the freedom of Arakan from Myanmar. In 2015, they entered the Rakhine State and defended against the Myanmar military’s attacks. In 2018, there was a tough fight between the Myanmar Military and the AA, in which young Arakaneses actively joined. During the civil war between the Myanmar Military and AA, many innocent civilians were arrested, villages were burned down, and the Myanmar Military killed over 289 people in Rakhine State. There were many refugee camps for people who lost their homes – people suffered, there wasn’t enough food, and kids couldn’t go to school.
Later, the AA became a strong army with about a hundred thousand soldiers and controlled most parts of Arakan. The AA and the United League of Arakan (ULA) (a political wing of the AA) ceased fire on one side. The AA currently controls 60% of the state, and the situation was stable until May 2022. After May 2022, the Myanmar Military began searching for the members of ULA/AA working in administration and arresting innocent people. The AA has also been searching for the Myanmar Military members who give information about the AA, distracting their actions. It seems the fights between AA and Myanmar Junta are likely.
Since the military coup, AA and the ULA have been working on governance for Arakan. According to my experience, about 99% of Arakaneses strongly recommend the AA and the ULA be in Arakan. The Myanmar Military government has completely lost the trust of Arakanese and the whole state of Myanmar because of its inhumanity to innocent civilians.
What advice would you offer to young people in your community?
I want to suggest to young people that they shouldn’t stop where they are and keep learning new things to upgrade their fruitful skills and knowledge every day by considering community development. They should build good relationships with international communities and create opportunities to work globally. They shouldn’t wait for opportunities to come – find and create opportunities for themselves by building a great network that will help them promote their society. They are necessary to overcome any challenges facing or will face in the future and learn practical experience from any mistakes they made.
Remark from the interviewer: The conversation gave me more insight into ethnic division, society, and the Myanmar government. With the ongoing project that our interviewee is working on, I found his passion for the community remarkable. Such help for young people in the community means a lot for the current generation, who will be the next changemakers for their nation. Regarding the current situation in this country, one must be aware of the structure of the country to understand the current civil conflict. Young people in Myanmar play a significant role in calling for action from the world and spreading accurate pictures and information about the conflict.
Alumni Legacy is our regular series highlighting the inspiring work of AASYP alumni across the region.