AsiaViews, Edition: 33/VII/November2010
Clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack ... two pairs of bamboo poles were hit against each another, creating a quick, lively rhythm. Before a bonfire, 50 teenagers from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam danced across bamboo poles.
The cultural event was part of the recent Asean Youth Forum 2010 held in Hanoi, Vietnam, at which the youths learned more about Asean countries and their cultures, shared opinions, discussed problems facing the Asean countries and sought to propose solutions to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) authorities.
Trang Tran-Thi Minh, a third-year student at Foreign Trade University who attended the 2010 Asean Youth Forum in Hanoi, said, "Here, I can share my viewpoints about social issues with friends so I can improve myself and find some solutions to the problems. The most important thing is I will have a network of intelligent friends."
Min Van Naing, a Burmese activist from Generation Wave, was happy to have gained many ideas and facts from the forum.
"Though we cannot push Asean leaders, this is a good channel for us [to discuss our thoughts]," the activist said.
During the forum, 50 youths from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam brainstormed and discussed educational, environmental, health issues, the lack of youth participation and freedom of expression, unemployment and human trafficking.
In the end, they issued a statement entitled, "Asean Youth Voice: Action Now", which put forward five issues that greatly affect Asean youths and need to be addressed by the Asean governments: quality of education; environmental sustainability; HIV/Aids and access to health care and services; human trafficking; and meaningful youth participation.
A low quality of education still continues to persist in many Asean countries. Limited access to education is still a huge barrier for the youths, especially from remote areas and indigenous communities, as is gender inequality in education. Moreover, there is a lack of facilities, materials and instructors in many educational institutions. Schools continue to implement outdated and irrelevant curricula and programmes. Finally, dropout rates continue to rise due to poverty and lack of interest among the students and parents, read the statement.
Therefore, the youths urged Asean governments to prioritise community-based and informal education that take into consideration local wisdom, push for the effective implementation of laws which mandate Asean governments to provide quality education for all, and be accountable for fostering transparency in implementing laws and policies on education.
Pichate Benjamart, an alternative education teacher from Thailand, said, "Asean youth groups have proposed that the governments ensure equal access to education and infrastructure, and provide education by respecting local intellects. Our role is to sell our ideas and exchange information. At the level of youths, we communicate via Google groups, journals and new media. We must start now in our own countries."
Trang Tran-Thi Minh, the Vietnamese university student, hopes that Vietnam's education will be more practical and flexible, and injected with something useful like sex education and things that can be used in daily life.
"Global warming and climate change are big problems, not only in Vietnam. We should try to raise public awareness of these problems," she added.
Min Van Naing, the Burmese activist from Generation Wave, said the majority of the Burmese are poorly educated. Only about 2 to 3 percent of Burmese graduate at university level but, degrees are just pieces of paper because the courses are too short.
A Laotian youth, who requested anonymity, said, "As for education in my country, I wish to see more study trips and workshops. And I want education to be extended to community level because the majority of rural people finish primary school only. Another problem is the education there focuses on learning by rote too much."
Phatsara Roophan from the Creative Youth Group in Thailand, commented the most important educational problem in most Asean countries is the failure of education to improve the human spirit and humanity in line with individuals' needs for development.
According to the Asean Youth Forum 2010 statement, climate change, global warming and biodiversity degradation have adversely affected millions of lives of Asean people. Urbanisation and industrialisation, deforestation, burning of coal and other fuels, large-scale hydropower plants and excessive use of various modes of transportation are seen as the major factors of the destruction of the environment.
The youths, hence, requested the Asean governments to immediately include the environment as the fourth pillar of the Asean community in order to reform existing legislation and policies which aim to address environmental issues and provide both technical and financial support for youth initiatives and projects for the environment.
During the forum, a Laotian youth, who also requested anonymity, expressed concerns about the sharply decreasing number See of fishes in the Mekong River as a result of the construction of large dams in China.
"Problems in Laos include dams and farmland. Many people know about the drying Mekong River and believe the dams in China might be a major cause. However, we can do nothing except for educational campaigns by NGOs," he added.
Siriluk Sriphasit, from EarthRights International or Mekong School, said the Mekong River has dried up at the fastest ever rate. This phenomenon is very clear in Chiang Khong of Chiang Rai province.
"Local people said they have never seen anything like this before. How could such a large stream become so small and shallow that people can easily walk across? We are pretty sure that it has occurred mainly because the large dams in China have blocked natural water flows, and partly because of climate change and drought. However, China has claimed it is caused by deforestation along satellite rivers in Laos and Thailand," she added.
Sediments are trapped in the upper areas of the dams in China. Nowadays, seawater has flooded the mouth of the river, affecting farming in Vietnam. This has prompted a number of farmers to opt for shrimp farming. This area is a rice bowl of the world. If youths in Vietnam ignore this problem, this rice bowl can be ruined, Siriluk noted.
According to the youths' statement, sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs and STIs), such as HIV, are becoming rampant in most Asean countries. In relation to this, the lack of comprehensive sexuality education provides insufficient knowledge and understanding for people, especially the youths, about these issues.
For these reasons, they demand the Asean governments to formulate policies to support comprehensive sexuality education and enhance programmes to guarantee young people access to health care without any discrimination. They should also increase the quality and coverage of health systems and health care services, including sexual and reproductive health, as well as safe and legal abortion. They also urge youth organisations to forge partnerships with Asean governments and other non-governmental organisations in advocating for these improvements.
Min Van Naing, a Burmese youth, said, "Health care in our country is so bad. Facilities must be improved, even in public hospitals. Last year, a girl in Rangoon was bitten by a snake and died because the nearest hospital did not have [anti-venom] serum. Many problems occur in public hospitals while private hospitals are very expensive. The poor cannot afford to pay $10 to $20 [300 to 600 baht] for a room per day."
Meanwhile, Shantoy Hades, an Indonesian activist from Young Progressive South East Asia, said the main problem in Indonesia is corruption, which affects health care, education, disaster management (such as tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and floods), poverty and severe unemployment that lead to increased crime rates.
"We have obstacles like norms and religions. It is difficult to run anti-HIV and condom campaigns; we have to deal with conservatives. Most Aids patients don't want to reveal themselves because of social stigmas and norms," she added.
In their statement, the Asean youths also voice their concerns about human trafficking and the lack of youth participation in the Asean's work. They urge the Asean governments to provide a platform for the youths to take part in the campaign against human trafficking, including male trafficking, and to fully assist and promote youth organisations to find and gather information on the roots and causes of human trafficking.
In addition, the youths request the Asean governments to fully support the establishment of youth forums and dialogue between governments and youth organisations, and to set up mechanisms within the Asean for effective youth involvement. They should also invest in youth leadership and take action based on the recommendations offered by the youths.
Jaruwan Supolrai, a Thai youth from Thai Volunteer Service, a co-organiser of the Asean Youth Forum 2010, said that Asean youths are faced with similar problems and have similar goals. All of them are from the grass roots level with diversity within.
"I believe in networking. I expect much that we will be able to increase our networks and their quality. Our gathering was a good start. Youths who are good at different things can fulfill each other's needs," she added.
By: Pichaya Svasti
Bangkok Post 15 November 2010 photo: Scenes from the Asean Youth Forum 2010, held from September 21 to 23 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of ASEAN YOUTH MOVEMENT MEDIA TEAM