Last week,  the EarthRights School Burma (ERSB) marked a major accomplishment and important step in the lives of fifteen young leaders, as the Class of 2011 completed their intensive eight month program. The students have completed core courses including such subjects as international law, human rights, environment, government and rule of law; they have participated in field trips to view contemporary manifestations of these issues in practice; and they have further undertaken skills training in advocacy and campaigning, reporting, public speaking, community organizing and fundraising.

During the program, each student returned to his or her community for several weeks to conduct a fieldwork project and develop a report or needs assessment on pressing earth rights issues. These included the implications of the proposed major deep seaport in Tavoy; impacts of dam construction, logging and land confiscation on local communities; exploitation and rights abuses experienced by migrant workers; effects of deforestation and promotion of resource conservation for rural groups; lack of access to education and vocational skills training for marginalized communities.

On Friday, December 16, ERSB students, staff and friends gathered for the graduation ceremony and party to celebrate our new graduates’ achievements. During the Graduation Ceremony, each graduate wore the traditional clothing of their unique culture, represent eleven different ethnic backgrounds from across Burma. The ceremony was attended by over 100 guests representing local, regional and international NGOs, friends and supporters, trainers and partners, together with ERI staff, students and alumni. Highlights of the evening’s program included encouragement and welcome speeches by ERI’s Asia Office Director, ERSB staff and alumni.

Members of the 2011 Class reflected on their time at the school and plans for the future:

“I think what I have gained and learned from the program has really exceeded my expectations…It was the first time for me to be in this family style of school. In my previous schools I have not had this kind of exposure, these kind of social activities and networking that can really help us build relationships with and understand people from many different backgrounds.”

“My first plan now I’ve graduated is to conduct an environmental awareness training in my community and after that I’d like to develop more activities to promote sustainable livelihoods and community development. I really believe that all of the activities I learned from this school will support my future projects because they are very related to the work I want to do.”

“When I went back to Burma for fieldwork I found that in the community, most people do not have the way to focus on their education. So I have a new idea to set up a new program promoting young people in education and applying what I learned here… What I like the most is that all of the staff members have the spirit of the ERI mission. They know about the situation in our country and they want to give us knowledge and skills and they want to promote and support the young people to work for our people.”

EarthRights School Burma, Class of 2011EarthRights School Burma, Class of 2011 The ceremony reflected the commitment, character and creativity of the graduating class, including a multi-ethnic dance in which all fifteen students performed choreographed routines reflecting their diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Also featured was a song composed and performed by the class of 2011 about the founding of the EarthRights School in 1999 by Ka Hsaw Wa (ERI Co-founder and Executive Director) based on love and compassion for the people of Burma.

After receiving certificates and floral tributes at the formal ceremony, the new alumni sang and danced the night away with friends and colleagues. In coming weeks, they will depart and return to their homes and communities. The organizations of our newest alumni are engaged in activities to develop local communities in areas such as environment, sustainable agriculture, education and health and to promote their rights. We wish our graduates all the best as they commence the work of building civil society and voice for the people of Burma and promoting and defending earth rights on behalf of their communities.

The EarthRights School Burma would like to express our gratitude and thanks to our funders, ERI management team, ERI staff, guest teachers and supporters from the local community for making this fantastic occasion possible.