In this class, led by Damular, student learned how to build good relationships with each other in order to work effectively together at the school. The students spend many months living together and working together on projects and this class laid the foundation for the rest of the training they will receive. The class also focused on topics such as activism, non-violence communication, and listening skill. The highlights of this course for many of the students were the activities that focused on team participation and challenges.
The critical thinking class, taught by ERI’s Dr. Daniel Aguirre, introduced al new and challenging subject for the students as it went against the grain of their previous education. Independent thinking, the formulation and expression of opinions, and decision-making were examined. Students went from being reluctant to think critically or to challenge what they were to told, to confidently asking questions and querying others’ assertions. These skills became fundaments underlying all other classes, and were also employed to analyze current events; the latter was also a new exercise for the students as they had previously had little exposure to global issues.
During the environment class, taught by ERI’s Khin Nanda, the students learned about biodiversity and basic concepts related to the natural environment. The class covered different parts of the natural environment and focused on the different level of biodiversity: species, ecosystem, and genes. The class also stressed the importance of the link between humans and the natural environment. At the end of the class, the students learned how they can help to preserve the natural environment at the individual, regional, national, and international levels.
This class, led by Dr. Daniel Aguirre, introduced the students to a variety of basic forms of governance. It began by determining what governance should consist of and what it should mean. The class looked at the historical development of the nation state from ancient to modern times. In doing so, the ‘nation’, the ‘state’, legitimacy, and nationalism were defined, and students began to understand the concept of the rule of law. Role playing games were used to develop an understanding of different forms of governance, from military dictatorship to democratic, socialist and communist governments. Democratic models were developed based on principles of federalism and the protection of minorities in order to make class decisions. Students learned how different forms of parliament work and applied these models to the idea of a future society in Burma.
The human rights class, also led by Dr. Aguirre, focused on the framework of international law applicable to the relationship between governments and their citizens. It began by tracing the historical development of human rights but also examined their relevance from a South East Asian perspective. The differences between legally binding covenants and declarations were explored, as was their enforcement – or lack thereof. A participatory method was used throughout. Students learned that they knew much more about human rights law than they previously thought. Different activities were used to elaborate on individual rights, such as refugee rights, freedom of expression, the right to food, the right to health, and freedom from torture. The class experimented with human rights advocacy, and learned about the importance of human rights education.
Introduction to EarthRights
In this class, again led by Dr. Aguirre, the students were introduced to the concept of “Earth Rights.” The link between human rights abuse and environmental degradation is not an abstract concept for the participants form inside Burma – it is fact of life. The students were able to draw back on the classes that they had just taken and weave together many of the concepts. The first hand experiences of the students shaped the class as Daniel also provided insight on the basic principles of environmental protection and drew comparisons to human rights protection. This was followed by a detailed discussion and case study of the Yadana pipeline case facilitated by Naing Htoo. The students were assigned to select a case study to present to the class after the year end break.
Rule of Law
From U Thien Oo, Chairman of Burma Lawyer’s Council, the students learned about the definition of law, the definition of the rule of law, and the background history of law and legal development. They learned types of law, including International law, National Law, Statute Law, customary Law and the parliamentary system, the constitution, and legitimacy of law, all through the prism of the current laws and political and economic situation in Burma.
Dr. Aguirre’s minority rights class was highly relevant to the lives of the students as they are from minority groups themselves. The students learned about the law relating to minority groups, and the various avenues of legal recourse for violations of minority rights. The highly politicized development of minority rights and the issue of third generation rights were examined, and minority rights and the rights of indigenous peoples inside Burma were looked at in-depth. The importance of these rights in transitional and post conflict situations was discussed.
Mining and Dam Case
Following the EarthRights session, the students conducted research into various mining and dam related topics. They presented their research in a series of excellent presentations over the course of the second and third weeks in January. All who attended were impressed with the professionalism and depth of knowledge displayed by the students. These presentations coincided with a course on mining and dam issues conducted by Steve Thomson, from the E-desk at Images Asia. The course covered the important basic concepts related to these issues and provided the students with an understanding of how these development projects affect the environment
International Financial Institutions
This class was an introduction to the International Financial Institutions (IFI) and students learned about the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and Asian Development Bank (ADB). The class was taught by Jelson Garcia, Regional Coordinator (Mekong/Southeast Asia) for the Bank Information Center. Students learned about the relationship with Burma and IMF, World Bank, and ADB and the current situation on Burma. The course also focused on the role of IFI in transitional periods and the future development of Burma and the role of citizens. Discussion focused on the problem of the World Bank and ADB’s projects, problems, and solutions. In the discussions students raised questions such as, How the harmful impact on environment and social and indigenous people? What can we do?
Students were introduced to the frequent imprecision of the term ‘globalization’, and discussed the economic, social, and cultural advantages and disadvantages of this phenomenon. The class, taught by Dr. Aguirre, provided a particular focus on the effects of globalization on human rights. Its advantages in relation to communication and technology were examined, as were its disadvantages, including the impunity of multinational corporations and the shortcomings of international law in this area.
Gender and Women Rights
Led by Aung Myo Min, Director of the Human Rights Education Institute Burma (HREIB), this class introduced students to gender issues and women rights. Topics covered include: power issues, the different between sex and gender, gender base discrimination, the gender box, history of gender and power, violence against women, and gender base domestic violence. Class discussions focused on a variety of topics including why we need women rights when we already have human rights and the CEDAW article. Final discussions focused on what we can do about these issues and how we can change it at the individual and community levels.
International Environmental Law
In this class, led by Misti Duvall from Arakan Oil Watch, students learned basic concepts in environmental law. Topics covered the differences between national environmental laws and international environmental laws, five basic principles of international environmental law, the basic processes and factors influencing the negotiation of an international environmental treaty, and the relevance of and difference between the Stockholm Declaration on Environment (1972) and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992).
The course then refocused to Burma issues such as the usefulness of environmental laws in addressing current environmental issues in Burma, a basic understanding of the major environmental laws and regulations in Burma, and the basic structure of major international environmental treaties to which Burma is a party (with a particular focus on understanding the obligations placed on parties).
In this class students learned about a variety of International Laws such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ICCPR and ICESCR, CEDAW, CRC, Indigenous and Minority Rights, Labor Rights (ILO) and the Kyoto Protocol. The class was facilitated by Kate Tillery, an International Human Rights Attorney and ERI Board Member.
Students learned about the background history of the international law and the UN system with a focus on it’s relation with Burma. Discussions focused on the enforcement of International Law and the role of the civil societies and the role NGOs in relation to this enforcement. Closing discussions focused on advocacy and what students can do as Human Rights and Environmental activists.
Students learned basic photography skills, including camera operation, light, shutter speeds, spot meters, and basic photo editing software. Discussions were held on how to take cameras into dangerous situations related to Burma.
ERI’s Naing Htoo introduced students to maps and how they can help them in their research and report writing. Students were introduced to two programs, Adobe Illustrator and Art View, which would assist them in making and editing maps. By using these two programs the student learn how to make the map and the student were given assignment for making their own map for their field research areas.
This class, led by perma-culture professional Colette Schmidt, began with the students understanding the theory and foundations of Sustainability as a development paradigm, where we highlighted the various complications in achieving true “sustainability”. We considered what Sustainability should mean for our own communities, which included facilitating a complicated balance of interests. The class focused on the need for maintaining cultural traditions and quality of life, to resource management, as well as economic motivations. Stress was made on the complexity of “sustainable development”, and how many private and public interests are now using this term to promote their own interests rather then necessarily creating better methods of development The class discussed current development issues affecting their own communities such as large scale damming projects, deforestation and the use of GMO’s, where we debated the pro’s and con’s of different types of development to stress the complexity involved and the need to create a new system of design. The last day of the class, we traveled to a local organic farm that utilizes many of the designs and integrated agriculture we talked about, focusing on renewable energy, natural building design, and integrated agriculture systems.
Interviewing and Fact Finding
Fact-Finding is a very important tool for exposing the truth and for planning for campaigns. In this class, led by Naing Htoo, students learned how to conduct fact-finding and each step toward getting affective information. It also focused on each student’s research project and knowing purpose of what their finding will be. This class helped students picture what needs to be done before and after a fact finding mission to cover it in during that period. The class closed with a discussion about the reality and challenges that students might face in fact finding missions in Burma while collecting their information so they can handle the situation.