I'm just back from Burma, also known as Myanmar, where I met
the team who put together radio show Lin Lat Kyair Sin (Bright Young Stars). Designed for a new era in
the country, it offers an unprecedented opportunity for young people to
exchange ideas and talk to each other.
The 18-35 age range of the production crew matches its
audience. Project Coordinator Yan Htaik Seng is passionate about the way the programme works: “We are
challenging social norms and discussing issues that were unheard of [before]:
women's rights, gay rights, talking about what democracy means, encouraging
people to get active and involved.
"In one programme on disability we profiled a 13-year
old girl from the Delta region. She managed to get medical treatment for her
paralysed legs [through one of our non-governmental organisation partners Actionaid]
and gained enough mobility to attend school."
"She got so much out of her new-found education and her love
of books that she organised a mobile library that could fit on a small boat.
She would row to neighbouring villages taking the books with her."
The new-found opportunity to share information and
participate in community life is tempered by concerns about how deep and
sustainable this new period of openness really can be. With elections set for
2015, will it last?
The heavily censorial and prohibitive past is a recent
memory. "When I was a boy I lived in fear," Yan says. "Talk of democracy didn’t
mean freedom, it meant jail. In my family we didn’t have electricity nor access
to information. I didn't know what was happening in another part of the country,
let alone the world. My parents told not to be curious, and that life would be
easier if I didn’t ask questions."
A new generation
But Yan was curious. He got hold of books and would watch TV
at a neighbour's house. When high school beckoned, he persuaded his father to allow
him to leave his childhood home in the remote Sian state on the border of
Thailand and China, which he describes as "a dark world, much cut off".
He moved in with an uncle in the capital Yangon and his life
started to open up. When the devastating Cyclone Nargis hit in 2008, he
volunteered for relief work in the flattened Delta region.
"It really changed me. I’m not a medic but I was able to
provide basic food and support. There was no access to healthcare and people
just didn't know what to do or how to take care of themselves, they were too
poor to go to hospital."
"Two things especially struck me: there was a child in a
broken hut. The structure was very weak. Until I saw this I hadn’t
realised people were that poor – that they couldn’t even afford basic food or
shelter. I realised at that moment that I had had no awareness of life as it
was being lived for so many."
"The other lasting image was of dead bodies and of people in
shock. I thought people would be crying but they were actually numb. It led me
to explore how I might help. First I joined a youth group and we started to try
and educate people about basic but important things. And then it brought me to
BBC Media Action."
LLKS' Yan Htaik Seng.
Hope for change
It's stories like these, illustrating a new sense of agency
and action on the part of a young and more optimistic generation, that makes
LLKS so powerful.
Ahead of the elections set for 2015 the programme is showing
people change is possible.
Both the girl in the boat of books and Yan in his relief
work in the Delta embody the spirit of Bright Young Stars and help sustain
hopes that a new era has begun.