Photo by Margaret Leshner, Student.
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Sitting with the Rohingya

Posted on

03/23/18

Author

Thalia Lhatso-Suppan

An alumnus reflection on Myanmar’s Rakhine State after working with Rohingya refugees on Dragons Myanmar semester program.

We piled into the back of the truck, dressed in our finest button-downs and longyis, the smell of car exhaust mixing with the eclectic aromas of street food as the vehicle started to crawl through the trafficked streets of Yangon. We were heading to meet a group of Rohingya youth in another part of the city. We met in a small apartment in the Muslim sector of the city. Seconds after stepping through the doorway, I was already sweating from the heat. What questions do you ask when you sit in front of people who have come through so many terrors? How do you acknowledge the bravery it takes for them to tell their story? I didn’t know how to feel but I knew that it was a tremendous honor to be able to enter that room. It wasn’t easy but it felt profoundly important to hear what they had to say.

In school, I’d read about systems of governance, human rights, and the “feedback loop” of history. I’d learned in the abstract about violence, activism, and resilience, but I never felt the weight of these influences so strongly until I went to Myanmar.

In school, I’d read about systems of governance, human rights, and the “feedback loop” of history. I’d learned in the abstract about violence, activism, and resilience, but I never felt the weight of these influences so strongly until I went to Myanmar. When my group sat in on a meeting of parliament, one-quarter of the room was filled with government-appointed officials. Yet the other three quarters were appointed by the people, for the first time in the country’s history. When we taught English in local schools, it quickly became clear that the students were used to repeating after their teachers. Yet we also met students who were learning to actively question their own beliefs and assumptions. These students will undoubtedly go on to make a huge impact on their country and the world.

Now, when I think of Myanmar, I think of tremendous complexity. After returning to the US, I have been working hard to be an active and educated participant in our democracy. I have a new perspective on U.S. politics thanks to my experience abroad. After traveling to the other side of the globe, I returned with a new understanding of who I am. And I feel the weight of my responsibility to be a global citizen.

Reflection by Thalia Lhatso-Suppan. Thalia was a student on Dragons Myanmar gap year semester course last fall. She is now interning at Dragons administrative office during the second half of her gap year.

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