Like everyone above the age of five living in the Shan State of Myanmar, Maunt Youmt Sai is a survivor.
She was born and raised during the last stretch of 60 years of violent conflict between the Shan minority and the Bamar ethnic majority. Growing up, she saw the horrors of war first-hand: grieving families, displaced women and children, young people fleeing the country in search of better prospects. She herself wasn’t able to complete her education. Maunt Youmt Sai hated Bamars, to the point that she even refused to eat their traditional food.
Today, that hatred is gone. In its place, there is the commitment to build a united, prosperous Myanmar, inspired by the work of the local Search team.
In 2015, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, we launched an 18-month initiative to rebuild the relationships between government institutions, non-state actors, and civil society groups, strained by decades of fighting and tensions. The project offered training to people belonging to these groups, reframing the way they perceive and interact with each other.
Maunt Youmt Sai was one of the trainees. At first, she was quiet and cold towards the other participants. All her life, she had been labeling Bamar people as perpetrators of violence.
As the training delved into identity issues and stereotypes, she became aware of the assumptions she was making towards others. Her diffidence started melting away and, within a few sessions, she started socializing with the Bamar. Four weeks in, she was making friends with them.
“I realized that I have a lot of prejudices towards other people. I am working on changing my mindset. Now, I’m friendly with my training classmates, who are from other ethnicities and the Burmese government,” she said.
After participating in our project, she enthusiastically joined initiatives to strengthen social cohesion in Shan State. Today, Maunt Youmt Sai is participating in Myanmar’s peace process as a member of the Restoration Council of Shan State, the organization which signed a ceasefire with the national government back in 2011.
“I used to be hurt. I hated the government, which oppressed the people and grabbed lands,” she told us. “But after receiving the training, […] I came to know how to find and analyze the root causes of the problem. [..] I want to raise awareness about it among the young people of today.”
Learn more about our work in Myanmar on the official country page.