In a shabby one-room concrete school in the middle of nowhere, 23 twenty-something future leaders have made a home, illegally, outside of the refugee camps and IDP areas of Burma where they live. For 10 months they are trained in community organization, leadership development, computer skills, and Karen history. It is here, at the Karen Youth Development Center in the nearby village of Mae Pa that I now spend my days -- humbly attempting to play the role of teacher.
Initially hired for my dazzlingly native English skills, I soon learned that, despite what they tell me, my students' English is phenomenal. Their verbs and nouns may not always agree, but their vocabulary includes words like recondite, versatile, and annihilate. So rather than grammar exercises and vocab games, I will be spending the month endeavoring to instill in my students the vernacular of organizational development. My hope is that by the time I'm finished they will have the tools they need to articulate their visions and goals both verbally and in writing to the international community (and in turn snag some of that much coveted and rarely obtained funding that floats around out there).
Last week we spent two full classes working to define "community development" "human potential" and "capacity building." As I watched them struggling with the concepts, scrawling their ideas hurriedly on the board, and finally arriving at their "aha" moments, I found it impossible not to be at least a little carried away with a sense of hope for the future. The students at this school embody and work toward these very things we are defining. Though surely some will not have the opportunities to realize their potential, and others will resettle and become entrenched in their new lives overseas, there are undoubtedly a few in the group who will go on to change their world in important and meaningful ways. They were hand picked for this program because the directors saw in them the potential to be the future leaders of the Karen community. The privilege of working with them and watching them learn and develop their ideas is an opportunity I'm so happy to have fallen upon.