[US to Vietnam + Myanmar ’14] Emily Cushman: Two countries, “a world apart”
Our delegation had many impactful meetings during our time in Vietnam, but one in particular stood out to me as the most memorable. Part of our exchange included a visit to the Vietnam Friendship Village, a residential facility located in Hanoi that provides medical care, physical therapy, and vocational training to Vietnamese children and war veterans with a range of disabilities caused by Agent Orange. Our entire delegation was born after the Vietnam War and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but then we spent several hours with the children and veterans, hearing their stories, laughing together, and ultimately seeing the impact of war on a human level. For me, hearing stories about enemies becoming friends and seeing a tangibly open, non-resentful approach toward the US and to our delegation was extremely powerful. I am forever grateful for the warmth with which we were welcomed.
And then we were off to Myanmar – a world apart from Vietnam. Our first day in the country we hopped on a plane and headed to the capital city of Naypyidaw– a city on an incomprehensible scale. We were awestruck when at our first meeting, we walked in and sat down across from the Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), Shwe Mann and Aung San Suu Kyi, the chairperson of the National League for Democracy. They proceeded to have a refreshingly candid and frank discussion on the progression of reforms and the political realities leading up to the elections at the end of the year.
The diversity of perspectives we heard during our time in Myanmar was astounding, and truly indicative of the country’s reforms and democracy building. We spoke about the realities of military control in different states with leaders of ethnic parties; women’s empowerment with rising female leaders; and censorship and its impact on the reformation process with veteran journalist U Thiha Saw. We met with former political prisoners (most people we met had been imprisoned at least once), rising political party staffers (there are over 60 political parties in Myanmar), social entrepreneurs, and political scientists. Through these interactions one thing rang very true: the world, and the country, will be waiting with baited breath for the outcome of the 2015 election.
Emily Cushman is the Director of Outreach + Engagement at ACYPL