Transforming relationships, building peaceMar 22, 2016
While a national ceasefire agreement was signed last year between the Government of Myanmar and key Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), and the country held its first free elections, government officials, EAOs and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) at the local level continue to serve in places torn apart by conflict and where trust, of them and between them, is low.
In Hopone town in Northern Myanmar, Khun Hla Aok, liaison for the Pa-O National Organization (PNO) and U Aung Minn*, a local Police Officer have overcome this trust gap and are on their way to forming a close friendship.
They did so by joining a six day social cohesion course for government, ethnic organizations and CSOs which not only built skills for peace but also broke the ice between opposing groups and helped lay the foundation for trustworthy relationships.
“I have been living in Hopone for 30 years but never made friends with a Government officer.” says U Aok.
“Now, after discussing, laughing and eating together, I will no longer hesitate to ask them for help.” adds U Minn.
The course was carefully designed to match Myanmar’s unique context. It created a pool of 50 skilled trainers to train up to 1,350 men and women in 6 post-conflict states (Kachin, Mon, Kayin, Kayah, Shan and Chin). A visual toolbox was developed for the course to help trainers to get their ideas across the multiple languages spoken in these localities. The trainers themselves are from government, ethnic organizations and CSOs which is helping participants to identify with what they are learning. They also work on joint assignments in-between sessions and join inter-state exchange visits, which is proving to be very effective in breaking down prejudices and building trust.
These shifts are not only helping individuals, but helping the peace process, as participants take their learning and trustful relations back to their workplaces. Khun Hla Aok and U Aung Minn are now cooperating on security incidents in the area since the course.
The ceasefire and elections were historic milestones for Myanmar. Yet this is where the country’s road to peace and democracy begins, not ends. What we do to build skills and improve trust makes valuable in-roads on this long journey.
This is a UNDP initiative in partnership with Search For Common Ground and 6 Myanmar CSOs.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.