Moving forward together: Starting an adolescent-led organization in Shan State
“We really enjoy doing social activities together, so we wanted to form a group.’’
That’s the view from a young person in Shan State in eastern Myanmar who is part of a brand new civil society organization setting out to address different challenges facing local youth.
Shan State is the country’s largest state and is home to around 1.2 million adolescents, or 12 percent of the total national adolescent population.
UNICEF started working on adolescent engagement activities in the state in 2017, with the support of Pearson. Under the UPSHIFT program, adolescents were mobilized into groups and provided with trainings to equip them with 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration and team work, problem solving and creativity.
Part of the trainings involved sharing the skills to identify problems and challenges in their communities, and solutions to address them.
The group in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, implemented its first social education project in the area during January 2018. The campaign aimed at preventing drug and substance reached thousands of children in multiple schools.
The young people didn’t want that achievement to end as a one-off event. So a group of 15 (8 girls, 7 boys), decided to found a new civil society organization (CSO), tentatively named the Cherry Adolescent Network (CAN).
The adolescents aged between 15 and 19 cited a range of reasons for the move, on top of the fact that they really enjoy doing social activities together.
One motivating factor was a lack of similar organisations.
Charity groups that donate food to orphanages and homes for the elderly are common in Myanmar, but groups that address skills-building and development in the community are rare, one participant said.
“These activities are harder to do than charity work, but the benefits are greater.”
The youths also appreciated the different kind of learning on offer in trainings.
“Classes for youth in computers and English are easy to find. It’s much harder to find training in soft skills, and we really value those skills and also the different training approach,” said another volunteer.
The skills they learned have made the challenge of going forward much easier.
“At first, we really didn’t know how to form a CSO. But in the last workshop on 21st century skills, we discussed it together, and then we went ahead with it. Having a group will allow us to do more social work together, systematically,” the volunteer said.
It’s always easier to learn from example, and the young people in Shan State said they became even more motivated after meeting more experienced peers.
“We were inspired by members of the Teens and Dreams network from Yangon who worked with us on the drug awareness project. We thought: ‘Why can’t we do what they do?’” said a volunteer.
In a recent last workshop, the group members came up with a list of four key issues affecting children and adolescents, and a plan.
- Children at work: The group will provide non-formal education sessions to working children, at their work sites.
- Drug Use: The group will expand prevention and awareness activities to new places.
- Lack of sexual and reproductive health education: The group will provide information and aware-ness raising.
- Inclusion: The group will mobilize and train more adolescents to join their activities.
During a recent training the group learned how to develop financial rules and regulations. Each member will save 2,000 kyat a month to support their social projects, the members agreed.
While still trying to decide on their new name, they selected the temporary title, ‘Cherry Adolescent Network, reflecting the fact that many parts of Shan State are dotted with cherry trees.
Meanwhile, the fledgling group quickly took on an additional challenge—conducting earthquake-awareness activities.
Myanmar lies on a number of earthquake fault-lines and preparedness among the public for potential disasters remains relatively low.
In collaboration with the Department of Disaster Management in Taunggyi, the young people learned what to do in an earthquake through role-play, participated in simulated first-aid activities, and distributed pamphlets on the topic to the public.
Both the group members and their communities are safer with this awareness, group members said.
The activity was another confidence-building step in the ‘Cherry’ group’s journey as the young members look forward to continuing to help both themselves and the wider adolescent community.