A MOTION proposing a delegation of Oxford students to visit Burma this year was passed unopposed at Wednesday’s OUSU Council meeting.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese opposition politician and Chairperson of the National League for Democracy, invited Oxford students to her home country when she visited St Hugh’s college in June last year to collect her honorary doctorate.
Since then, OUSU, together with OxHub, has planned to select a delegation to spend a week in Burma, and hopes to link to a counterpart delegation of Burmese students who might be able to make a reciprocal visit to Oxford. Planned activities for the week include discussion seminars with the counterpart delegation, visits to selected Burmese development initiatives and outings to youth-led programmes or projects.
After decades of military dictatorship, Burmese politics has more recently been marked by steps to reform its government. Its progress has been met with encouragement internationally and, in the past year, representatives from several countries, including Foreign Secretary William Hague, have made historic visits to the country.
Sarah Santhosham, OUSU VP (Charities and Community), told Cherwell, “The proposed exchange trip to Burma offers an exciting learning opportunity for students who have made a significant impact on their community to share their experience of civic leadership and development with Burmese youth, and participate in the reintegration of Burma into the academic community through cross-cultural exchange.”
She added, “An exchange like this is particularly meaningful at this time when Burma is transiting towards democracy. Forging a partnership between Oxford and Burmese students will hopefully lead to an ongoing relationship where we can exchange ideas between our two student communities.”
OUSU President David J Townsend, said, “This proposal emerged from an invitation given by Dr Aung San Suu Kyi to OUSU last summer, and with the University’s backing we’re now in a position to accept that invitation.”
He continued, “While the re-engagement of Burma with the international community has been continuing apace, as evidenced by official visits from political leaders of Australia, the US and the UK, naturally we will be monitoring the situation as it evolves, and taking diplomatic advice on the matter. Re-engagement requires more than just diplomatic and economic connections, though: it requires a connection between young people, and students in particular, if it is to be meaningful and lasting. OUSU, on behalf of the Oxford student body, would be proud to be part of that re-engagement.”
Nora Godkin, Co-President and Founder of the Oxford Burma Alliance, commented, “I think it’s great that Oxford students are showing an interest in Burma and in the lives of their Burmese counterparts, as now is really the time to lend our support to the Burmese people who are trying to use the current international attention to usher in real and positive change.”
In addition, she noted, “It would be great if this opportunity could be used to forge lasting relationships between Oxford students and Burmese young people – something the Oxford Burma Alliance aims to do through a number of projects – as both sides can learn from and support each other.”
OUSU hopes to forge an ongoing partnership with a Burmese delegation, which could make a return visit to Oxford in the future. It hopes to engage Oxford students beyond those selected to partake in the visit. Santhosham said, “OUSU is currently exploring a number of options to make the exchange longer lasting and impactful for the wider student body.”