Your Voice, Your Vote, Your Future: A Youth Civic Education Program in Myanmar
In Loi Lin Lay, a small town outside Loikaw, the capital city of Kayah State, 34 young people gathered in a primary schoolhouse for Your Voice, Your Vote, Your Future, a youth civic education training designed and supported by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). It was the rainy season in Myanmar, and the dark clouds outside contrasted with the energy of the youth inside the classroom. The participants were 15-21 years old and from Loi Lin Lay and its surrounding areas, with some having traveled over two hours via motorbike to attend the training. All the participants will be first-time voters in the 2020 elections and had no previous civic education either in schools or through other trainings. Your Voice, Your Vote, Your Future is a 2 1/2-day civic education training program that focuses on three key areas: knowledge development, leadership development, and community mobilization. The first two days of training covered topics such as “Elements of Democracy,” “Decision-Making Processes,” “Introduction to Elections” and “Building Your Self-Confidence.”
On the third day of the training, participants practiced a street theater performance to perform for their community later in the day. Each participant chose their role and practiced in front of the group, receiving feedback and encouragement from their fellow participants and the trainers. The youth spread the word throughout the community about their performance and, despite the rain, audience members slowly began to trickle into the open-air theater. During the performance, one actor explained the voting process to his friends and discussed the importance of young people voting in elections. The audience laughed, shouted encouragement, and clapped throughout the performance, and many stayed afterward to congratulate the actors and take photos.
“I plan to share what I have learned about democracy and elections, which is very important for us. Most of us know that our country is democratic, but many, especially young people, do not know what democracy means and why we need to vote.” – Phyo Phyo Win, a 20-year-old Kayan woman
There will be approximately 5 million first-time youth voters in Myanmar’s 2020 national elections. Your Voice, Your Vote, Your Future is being implemented in areas where there was either low voter turnout or a high incidence of invalid votes during the 2015 elections. IFES is also translating materials into 10 ethnic languages to reach nearly 65 ethnic minorities. In Myanmar’s young democracy, there is a potent need for civic education for young people, particularly in rural areas where they do not have access to traditional methods of civic education and information.
“We as youth have to learn how we can be leaders in our communities. We have not previously had access to these types of trainings in our areas, and this type of civic education training is very valuable.” – Myint Myat, a 22-year-old man who attended the Loi Lin Lay training
In the program’s current phase, the Myanmar Network for Free and Fair Elections and the Hornbill Organization, two local civil society organizations, are planning 80 trainings in 60 townships, aiming to train 2,500 youth by mid-2019. At the end of June 2018, 28 trainings had been completed with 857 youth trained and over 2,500 reached through community mobilization activities, including street theater performances and debate sessions on the importance of young people voting in elections. By supporting Myanmar’s youth to develop civic knowledge and critical thinking skills, IFES and its local partners are empowering first-time voters to make informed decisions in the 2020 elections and beyond and empowering young people to become future leaders in their communities.
The Your Voice, Your Vote, Your Future youth civic education program is supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the U.K. Department for International Development.