Fifteen years ago, a widespread scorched earth campaign set Shan State on fire. In the late 1990s, Burma‘s military regime systematically destroyed the landscape and livelihoods of their country‘s largest and most ethnically diverse state uprooting over three hundred thousand people. The children born into these ―Hell Years,‖ as one of our students calls them, grew up in a political inferno, encountering war and suffering human rights violations during their most formative years. Surviving these circumstances fueled their motivation to join the struggle for democracy in their homeland, but also left them unsure of their role in a mature movement. While they are too young to remember the student uprisings of 1988, these students are of an age in which they have experienced the aftermath of government-sponsored terror and oppression. They are old enough realize that for their country to change, the citizens must be empowered through education. That was the inspiration for this collection of stories.
This book is evidence of these students‘ transformations from victims of government abuse to activists for change. The 10th SJEP graduates are joining the hundreds of other SSSNY alumni already working in communities in Shan State and on the ThaiBurma border, bringing hope to the people they represent. While security requirements necessitate that identities be kept secret, their photos and stories explain how this group would like to be seen—as plants that sprouted from a scorched land, as eager students who are developing into powerful champions of justice, freedom, and peace.
10th SJEP Teacher SSSNY