“All of us came from Burma [Myanmar] from different places, backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. Every student that has come to the EarthRights School Myanmar has many expectations to gain new knowledge and will go back to their community after graduating…All will become an active person with a role of protecting against environmental impacts and human rights abuses in their communities.”
-Khun Kham Tee, EarthRights School Myanmar Student 2015 (from Shan State)
Just as the seasonal floods of the Mekong replenish riverbank gardens, delta paddies, and wetlands so too the seasonal arrival of human rights and environmental advocates to the EarthRights School Myanmar replenishes, and with deliberate cultivation, reseeds the fields of ERI’s work.
The training provided by the EarthRights School – both its Mynamar and Mekong programs – represents a particular grassroots, bottom-up dimension to ERI’s work. Far from being ancillary, the EarthRights School and its network of alumni are integral to the effectiveness of ERI’s more top-down, policy and legal advocacy work, which require knowledgeable, informed and empowered local partners on the ground to thrive.
More specifically, our lawyers and campaign staff in Southeast Asia, depend heavily on coordinating with our alumni to conduct legal trainings, facilitate independent research, document and publicize project impacts, craft community statements and petitions, and garner support to file complaints to the United Nations, National Human Rights Institution, or in national courts.
As an educational program, EarthRights School is unique in a lot of ways. However, for me, what stands out is its immediacy. That is, the program – the curriculum, field trips, research – are not abstract; students come from local organizations in their respective communities, engage wholly in the intensive, full-time training, and when finished, return to those same communities to immediately apply lessons learned. Moreover, many of the students are studying/working to protect communities where they grew up; places they call home. Naturally, this brings a tangible sense of urgency and investment to the classroom.
This is the 15th year of EarthRights School Myanmar. The new season has brought 12 advocates from regions around Myanmar: 5 women, 7 men, representing 7 ethnic groups, and ranging in age from 21-38. Like the other EarthRights School Myanmar cohorts, they will complete the 6-month training, as well as an independent research project in coordination with ERI legal and campaign staff. The training began with a weeklong orientation to build relationships and prepare students for the months ahead.
The students look forward to the coming month in which they will have classes in environment, advocacy and campaigns, Environmental Impact Assessment, and Land Rights.