LoyarBurokker Gaythri Raman moves the needle in Myanmar, with Aung San Suu Kyi.
It was my first trip to Burma. I was there on a LexisNexis Rule of Law mission, to find a way in which we could move the needle, help with the country’s democratization process. I went with an open mind, curious about the people, the culture, the legal profession and Burma’s identity. I was excited from the day I knew I would be headed there, and I hoped I would enjoy the journey.
I immersed myself in Burma during the two weeks that I was there and left bringing a piece of it home with me. It will stay with me forever, reminding me of what is important in life. It has given me lesson after lesson in humility, patience, understanding and empathy. I heard story after story that moved me deeply. I am a changed person, a better person with an entirely fresh perspective in life.
This story is about an amazing snapshot of my time there, a recount of my time with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
She is called Daw Suu by all who know her. I was told to do the same. I was given a thirty minute slot with her at 5.00 pm on Tuesday, 6 August 2013. I had read countless articles about her, watched videos of her speaking at various events since she was released from house arrest on 13 November 2010. I knew what she stood for and was in awe of her, but I was curious about her, the person. I couldn’t really tell what she was like from those videos. She seemed poised, collected, dignified. I wondered what I would find, if this hero I had built up in my mind would disappoint.
I was visiting the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) newly set up resource center in the country’s capital, Nay Pyi Taw when word came that she was on her way. This is a place for Members of Parliament to meet, work, access the internet, and learn. It was designed to be a haven for these hardworking MPs and Daw Suu wanted to see it for herself.
Anyone who sets eyes on Daw Suu for the first time will experience a wave of positive energy that just radiates from her. That magnificent pulsing, vibrant energy combined with her natural grace and beauty is intense. It is a shock to the system and it is contagious. Even before she becomes aware of you, you will experience the power of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
She is direct, hands-on, matter-of-fact, gets straight to the point and down to the details without hesitation and little small talk. She smiles as she takes digs at the government, dry-witted, brilliant. She takes charge, doesn’t waste time. I can imagine why. She has lost so much time.
She had a lift in her stride that said, “let’s go, let’s go” and she didn’t wait to be ushered, walking ahead, approaching those of us who were there, greeting us, shaking our hands, looking right at every face as she did that, registering, giving each of us a moment.
She toured the place, went to each room. I followed her from behind, marveling at her sharp questions and direct manner, chuckling at how intimidated her hosts were, heartened at how she spent time addressing seemingly trivial matters because it made a difference to her people, and she cared.
We took our seats and started to discuss the training needs of the MPs. They were being trained on practice and procedure in Parliament, the various aspects of legislative drafting and all things related to lawmaking. She explained the challenges the MPs faced and what kind of training they needed. She wanted specific aspects included in the curriculum, made it clear what she thought should be featured but also asked what we thought of her views. She was inclusive, engaging.
She talked about the need to review the constitution and the role of the 109-member committee that was set up to perform that function. There was a complete lack of bitterness, no visible resentment at the card she had been dealt. She wasn’t accepting of her fate. She was determined to change things and she was looking into the future, planning, strategizing.
I had to marvel at her outlook and brilliance. It was contagious, this excitement. “She will lead this country and she will be brilliant at it”, I thought. I couldn’t help feeling excited for the people of Burma. It was that energy she kept radiating. I was being hit by wave after wave, seated right across the table from her.
Later that evening, I headed to her home. My thirty minutes with her was amazing. We talked about the need for making laws transparent and consumable. We discussed the challenges that Burma and her people faced and exchanged ideas on how to address them. She listened to what I had to say about how we could approach capacity building, awareness and empowerment. “We need to make haste slowly”, she said. We had a working meeting, not just high level chit chat. I forgot who she was for a moment as we focused on our topic, our goals.
She asked me if I was getting a lot out of this trip. This was typical Daw Suu again – everyone else I had met asked how I liked this country. She asked me if I was succeeding in my mission, getting done what I had gone there to do. I told her that I met people in Yangon who welcomed help. She looked at me and said “Gaythri, the next time you meet people who ask for help, please tell them to first help themselves. Don’t wait for help. Start doing something”. I nodded, said “yes, I will” and then blurted “you are so inspiring!” She laughed and said “I don’t know why people say that, this is just common sense.”
We talked about a new set of laws for farmers which were passed in Parliament recently. She wanted to teach them about these laws, make them understand how these laws could help them, empower them, protect them. I suggested audio lessons for them, especially for farmers who couldn’t read. She loved the idea and wanted to start immediately. We will create and launch an education program for farmers in Burma. It is daunting, this challenge and we will need all the help we can get but it will move the needle. We must succeed.
It was an amazing experience, one which has inspired me in so many ways. I hope my story inspires more to visit this country, to care.
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