You were studying or interning abroad. Or you were on a vacation somewhere outside of your home country. You were enjoying life as usual, and suddenly news came in that your country had shut down completely and that the military has taken over the political leadership, arresting hundreds of government officials and other civilians. While you are still in shock, the internet and phone lines were cut off. You have now lost contact with your families and friends. So, there you sat — scrolling through an empty Facebook timeline, with empty hope that there might be some breakthrough access. You dial all the numbers you have available, wishing to hear a familiar voice on the other end, yet only to no avail.
As a Myanmar student abroad, this is only a glimpse of what I have been going through since the military staged a coup d’état on February 1, 2021. Every single day, I am surrounded by the political turmoil and violence that is directly impacting my family and friends in Myanmar. So, when I was choosing an internship for this summer, I made sure to pick an institution where I can work on issues that are close to home. And I have known about the Asia Foundation’s work on Myanmar since a few years ago as I had to use some of their conflict reports for my research projects. So, TAF has been one of my top choices for the summer internship, and I applied to the Asia Foundation’s Conflict and Fragility team in Thailand. Just as I was hoping, with TAF, I am able to work independently on a topic of my interest regarding pre-existing conflict and newly arising political turmoil in Myanmar.
The original hope has been to work in their Thailand office in-person. As summer approached, however, with the restrictions around COVID-19, this plan did not materialize. Instead, working remotely came with its own perks. I could not have imagined going into work on a nine-to-five schedule and pretending as if my beloved home city was not collapsing, which it was. Explosions and assassinations now mark everyday life in my city, Yangon. My close friends have joined armed resistance. Some friends had fled the country, while some got arrested. In July, as the military was rounding up doctors and healthcare workers and shutting down oxygen and other medical supplies, my own mother become ill with COVID-19 and was in critical condition for several days. And she had to get treated at home while running from the military as she was on the watchlist released. As all of this took a tremendous mental toll on me, working from home independently allowed me to be flexible, to be kind to myself, and to work on different projects at my own time. Moreover, I was able to connect with the Burmese community in the Bay Area over the summer, attending Burma-related fundraisers and protests.
Additionally, being very familiar with the context of political turmoil in Myanmar, my supervisors were extremely kind and supportive in many ways. From getting feedback about my research proposals and ideas to talking about what is happening in general, I was able to learn about different perspectives on the issues around Myanmar, while also discovering many areas of conflict research that I did not know about before. Their expertise on the conflict issues in the country and the region also helped me to put a check on my own biases when dealing with the issues around Myanmar. I feel so grateful and fortunate to be able to work with my colleagues for this summer, and I could not even imagine working at a different place in this situation.