This is the final entry of a four-part series of Sarus stories written by Madeleine Chaisson, MA Candidate from the Clinton School of Public Service. She spent the last three months interviewing 45 Sarus alumni, staff, and board members and recording their stories. This second story is with Su Myat Mon, also known as Su Chay (Bangladesh-Myanmar Exchange Program 2016).
Su Chay found time from her busy schedule to both sit for an interview and play hostess. We first explored City Mall (and all that City Mart has to offer), and then tried the newly opened water taxi. We took the bus to the National Museum, where she showed her pride in her country, her home state of Rakhine, and impressive knowledge of the vast diversity of ethnic groups present in Myanmar. Her eagerness to share her experiences with Sarus was palpable, as was her passion for peace.
She explained that coming from Rakhine State, she feels a deep desire to build peaceful relationships. She found Sarus through a community leadership program in Yangon. When I asked why she was interested in Sarus, her response was simple. She wanted to join the program to build “good relationships in the long run” and she wanted to have a “good impact between the Bangladesh and Myanmar girls as someone from Rakhine State”. Su Chay joined the program without knowing any other participants, and says now that she is still in touch with her fellow alumnae.
Su Chay’s expectation of the program was a formal training, most likely in the form of a lecture or a speech. She was pleasantly surprised to find such an open environment filled with women equally passionate about fostering peaceful relationships. Luckily, she noted that even though the Sarus exchange was not a lecture “we still got a good experience based of the work between two groups [Bangladesh and Myanmar]”.
Su Chay spoke passionately about the peace circles that ended every day of the exchange program. The language she used was so “Sarusized”, including the phrase “listen from our hearts”, proving her deep understanding and acceptance of the Sarus curriculum. Her experience of the Sarus peace circle seems to have been so complete that she carries on reflecting on topics discussed there. She said that, “whenever I have time and don’t want to think about my job, I try to remember the times when I felt good [at Sarus]”.
Sarus helped her in more ways than just peace building; Su Chay talked about how her English improved and she gained confidence in speaking to foreigners. She says that she no longer feels shy or judged when she speaks, and is now able to recover from minor mistakes more quickly. Her communication skills in both languages improved, tested especially when she explains Sarus programming to her community using different levels of Burmese translations from English.
When speaking to her friends and family about Sarus, Su Chay explains it as an exchange program between two countries, with an occasional focus on Phaung Daw Oo because it is more well known in her local community. The organization in Bangladesh is not well known in Myanmar, she explained, and so it is difficult to talk about. She instead talks about the exchange and Asian University for Women (AUW), and her experiences with 6 women from local NGO schools and 6 from an international school who came together.
Su Chay began working for the magazine, Frontier Myanmar, in September 2016 after her experience with Sarus, driven by her increased confidence. Sarus helped her to understand people since who may differ from herself, and learned how to be patient and not judge: “learn first and judge later”. Su Chay employs these lessons every day when she works as a journalist, traveling and speaking to peers, local officials, and tourists.
Since completing the Sarus Bangladesh-Myanmar Exchange Program, Su Chay has attended conferences in Finland and Cambodia. In keeping with her fellow Myanmar participants, food was her only problem in both countries! She suggests packing food from Myanmar when traveling outside of the country.