“When I go back, I will have to change education in my village first, and if I can change education in my village first, I can change education in Shan State.” – SYSTERM Group A Graduate
Introduction to SYSTERM
The Shan Youth Safety Training to End Risky Migration program, SYSTERM, is DEPDC’s newest initiative to combating trafficking at the grassroots level. In the wake of the Myanmar crisis, DEPDC/GMS believes SYSTERM is a positive step to trafficking prevention in the unreachable areas of Shan state. The goal is to train 100 at-risk Shan youth in safe migration, life-saving skills, nonprofit management, social and emotional learning, basic English and Thai, and leadership skills so that these young adults can return to their own communities and begin their own grassroots movements that can effectively challenge the obstacles specific to each region of Shan state. Our reasoning for this program rests on these beliefs:
- Youth energy, ingenuity, and inspiration are what will lead to sustained future success in combating trafficking initiatives.
- Grassroots initiatives are as effective, if not more, than foreign intervention tactics, as local leaders understand the intricacies and challenges of their own community systems.
- Local efforts are effective at encouraging community development, as the feeling of ownership of a project by a community will result in an altered mindset that can promote permanent change.
In 2009, DEPDC completed a 5-year program called the Mekong Youth Network (MYN) that successfully taught 96 youth leaders about initiating grassroots movements that could prevent trafficking within their own communities. Upon completion, the program had stretched to involve young adults from Thailand, Myanmar (Shan, Karen, Kachin, and Akha), Laos PDR, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China’s Yunnan Province. To encourage the continuation of friendship and collaboration, DEPDC expanded the program in the year that followed its completion to create what became known as the Mekong Youth Union (MYU), providing a way for the MYN alumni to support each other’s projects and begin cross-continental initiatives that would further DEPDC’s vision of trafficking prevention through education and training.
In light of this success, DEPDC planned to expand the MYU beyond its 96 members. The Shan Youth Safety Training to End Risky Migration, SYSTERM, is the actualization of that vision. Once the Shan youth have successfully completed their stay at DEPDC, they will connect with the MYU to expand anti-trafficking initiatives deeper into Myanmar, as well as to receive invaluable support and advice from other youth who have begun their own initiatives and can offer wisdom.
Myanmar Crisis and Why SYSTERM Is Important
Shan state, Myanmar’s largest and most eastern state, sits within the heart of what is known as the Golden Triangle, an area that encompassess northern Thailand, Eastern Myanmar, and Laos PDR. The region is known for the copious flow of goods and services from the three countries. It is a unique intersection of commerce and diversity, but much of its underbelly is comprised of extreme drug flow and trafficking that target the most vulnerable populations in the area. Traders look for three main aspects:
- Poverty: people who do not own land, are unemployed, have little income, or are in debt.
- Insufficient education: no access to affordable schooling, teachers or opportunities, which makes children vulnerable, often idle, and illiterate
- Lack of documentation: stateless person and IDPs (internally displaced persons). Many are migrants who have crossed the border irregularly or have no documents, citizenship, or birth certificate, thus increasing their vulnerability to exploitation.
Since 2014, armed conflict has risen up again even with the installment of democracy in Myanmar, a violence due substantially to the fact that the Myanmar government often refuses to recognize and actively suppresses minority groups, including the Shan people. The rise of violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of Tai Yai and Rohingya people from Shan and Rakhine States, and it is estimated that between 2014 and 2016, over tens of thousands of women and children specifically have fled Myanmar to the Golden Triangle, which has shifted the trafficking focus to begin targeting these vulnerable people. Without legal status, families and children from migrant or ethnic minority backgrounds are prevented from accessing affordable basic education, health care, and legal services. Trafficking often stems from the targeting, coercion, and debt bondage of these vulnerable or stateless people who look to traffickers for work, protection, and an identity.
With the Rakhine and Shan state crisis on the rise, the risk of trafficking through unsafe migration is more urgent than ever. Yet, many of the most-vulnerable areas are unreachable in the short term by established NGOs. DEPDC believes SYSTERM is the answer.
SYSTERM Project Objectives
- To provide basic education and life skills training opportunities to at-risk, stateless children and young women migrants from Shan state.
- To empower and encourage children and young women to realize the importance of basic literacy skills.
- To apply the education and training values into self-sufficiency and self-help in order to be safe from being victimized or pushed into sexual or labor exploitation.
- To form a youth leader group network for prevention of risk migration at origin areas after returning home to Shan State.
- To build networking with local charity organizations, churches, temples, and other human rights groups at the origin and along the border of Thailand-Myanmar.
- To expand the MYU to include the new SYSTERM leaders, so that anti-trafficking initiatives can continue to join forces in reaching the most vulnerable areas across Asia.
SYSTERM Group A was launched in January of 2018 with the enrollment of 53 Shan youth. These young adults, between the ages of 13 and 27, came from more than 10 villages in Shan State. The group spent the first four months following a curriculum that looked into:
- Introduction to the Mekong Region: politics, social problems, changes etc.
- Cultural Studies: language, ethnic culture and hill tribes of the region
- Social problems: specific social problems facing the indigenous people such as poverty, drug addiction, education etc.
- International issues: human rights, trafficking, illegal drugs etc.
- Research skills: basic research methodology and report writing
- Management training: team building, organizational development, office work, media skills, and administration
- Sociology: women’s studies, hill tribe family studies, family planning etc.
The group spent the month of June interning at various organizations around Mae Sai to gain management experience, culminating in each member writing an individualized report prior to returning home to Myanmar, where the young adults started their own initiatives. Projects developed by our graduates range from academic workshops held at village schools to life-skills training for local youths. Several graduates have returned home to begin working and teaching at the national schools in their communities, sharing their experiences and knowledge with their students and colleagues.
A Call to Action
With the successful completion of SYSTERM Group A’s training, DEPDC now looks towards growing the program and extending an offer to a second group of Shan state youth. However, it cannot do so without your help. Please consider donating to this worthy cause, one that is sparking a movement across Myanmar to protect its own, one that is teaching safe migration, empowerment, and is proving to the world just how much power lies behind the initiatives of this world’s youth.