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Asia Foundation Hosts Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Visits President U Thein Sein and Furthers Engagement In Burma
Nobel laureate, democracy icon, and elected parliamentarian of Burma (also known as Myanmar), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stressed that democratization in Burma must be sensible, durable, and “beneficial to all,” in her first Bay Area public remarks at The Asia Foundation in September. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to an exclusive and invitation-only audience of Bay Area political, civic, and business leaders; her remarks immediately followed a private meeting with David D. Arnold, president of The Asia Foundation, and the organization’s trustees.
“We are honored that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi chose to visit The Asia Foundation during her brief time in the Bay Area,” said Arnold. “The Foundation is a long-standing partner in Asia’s development, and we have consistently supported reform-minded leaders such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in their efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and promote the rule of law. We are encouraged and excited by Burma’s remarkable transformation.”
The Burmese leader spoke eloquently about the heartening reforms she’s recently witnessed in her country, while cautioning: “To our friends who want to help us, it’s not enough to help a country which is emerging from dictatorship into democracy. It has to be helped in such a way that the foundations of a democratic society would be strengthened. This of course means empowering the people.”
With Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s remarks in mind, The Asia Foundation’s ambitious program of development activities in Burma are already under way. Shortly after her visit, President Arnold led a delegation to Burma to meet with the President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar U Thein Sein (pictured on following page) and conducted substantive discussions on assistance for the country’s development and rule of law. Later that week, in a ceremony at the Parliamentary Library in Nay Pyi Taw, alongside U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek J. Mitchell and with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in attendance, senior representatives of The Asia Foundation and President Arnold presented a special collection of more than 600 books and periodicals to the Burmese Parliament Secretariat through a joint effort between the U.S. Embassy and The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia.
The Asia Foundation had an office in Burma from 1954 to 1962, and plans to reestablish a country office in 2013 to support the democratic transition and long-term development needs. In the coming year, the Foundation will undertake a range of new activities to support Burma’s ongoing reform process. Building on our experience working with other Asian countries that have undergone such transitions and our earlier presence in Burma—strengthening core institutions of democratic governance such as the parliament, supporting peacebuilding efforts with various ethnic minority groups, and enhancing the capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially as Burma prepares to chair ASEAN in 2014—will be key to our efforts there.
In October, with a generous $1 million grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Asia Foundation announced a new initiative, Carnegie Corporation Scholarships for Afghan Women. The project will run through March 2017 and will support 88 university scholarships at both public and private universities in Afghanistan; 78 Afghan women will enroll in undergraduate degree programs and 10 women university professors will enroll in advanced degree programs. Scholarship recipients will represent all geographic regions of Afghanistan.
This scholarship program is both timely and critical for the future of Afghanistan. When the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, Afghan women had one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world – only 10 percent of Afghan women could read and write.
Since then, Afghanistan has made great strides in girls’ education, but significant barriers to higher education still exist. This scholarship initiative will help close the gender gap in higher education and give Afghan women the chance to fully contribute to national development.
The scholarship program will be complemented by a $50,000 grant from Carnegie Corporation to the Foundation’s Books for Asia program, which will support library development efforts at select Afghan universities.
“In my view,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation, “when you educate a woman you educate a whole generation. Women are the seeds of civilization so we are investing in Afghan women because advancing their education is an important milestone in Afghanistan’s growth and progress. Not only do they represent almost half their country’s population, their aspirations embody the great potential of Afghanistan’s future.”
The Asia Foundation has been at the forefront of empowering women in Asia for almost 60 years. In Afghanistan, girls’ and women’s education has been a key focus since the Foundation reopened its office in Kabul in January 2002. The Foundation recognizes that the future of Afghanistan depends heavily on the ability of young women and men to lead the country out of extreme poverty, illiteracy, ill-health, and instability—this ability is a direct product of education.
On November 10, David D. Arnold addressed the Pacific Council on International Policy at their annual Members Weekend in Santa Monica, California. The subject of the talk was on “Reform, Democracy, and Myanmar’s Path Forward.” Mr. Arnold sat on a panel with Hon. Kantathi Suphamongkhon, former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Thailand, and Amb. Priscilla Clapp, former U.S. Chief of Mission in Burma.
Other speakers at the Pacific Council conference included Hon. Michèle Flournoy, former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; Dr. Laura Tyson, former Chair of the National Economic Council; Hon. Jane Harman, former U.S. Representative from California, and Director, Woodrow Wilson Center; and Hon. Thomas R. Nides, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.
On October 15, Philippines’ President Aquino signed the Framework Agreement between the country’s largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government, to begin the process of ending 40 years of brutal conflict. The agreement is a significant milestone and presents a road map on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization, and transition and implementation. Although many factors and parties led to this agreement, a unique aspect of the negotiations was the role of other participants—both local and international—including the International Contact Group (ICG), of which The Asia Foundation is a member.
The ICG is a unique body consisting of countries (Britain, Japan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) and select nongovernmental organizations (The Asia Foundation, Conciliation Resources, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, and Muhammadiyah). Asia Foundation Country Representative Steven Rood reflected recently on the importance of the hybrid nature of the ICG’s role in the peace process “as a valuable response to the growing complexity of long-running conflicts,” further stating “there are clearly roles that can be played by international actors, ways they can help protagonists move toward a negotiated solution that is in the interest of both entities, and connections they can facilitate between domestic stakeholders and the negotiation process.”
The lessons learned from this groundbreaking peace agreement are crucial in their relevance to other complex conflict areas where The Asia Foundation works.
Texas Instruments Sponsors Book Donation in Malaysia
Texas Instruments (TI) has sponsored The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program to distribute 5,000 brand-new books to all secondary schools in the Malaysian state of Melaka and an additional 7,000 throughout Malaysia this year.
TI, which has operated a major facility in Kuala Lumpur for more than 40 years, recently expanded operations to Melaka.
Through the grant, these new books, dedicated to specific reading levels and subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, were distributed to schools at a ceremony held at the Melaka state Educational Technology Division offices in October.
TI Melaka’s Managing Director Doug Wilson spoke about the company’s commitment to education. “At TI, we believe that supporting education today is critical to the success of our company and our communities tomorrow. By ensuring students have access to excellent materials and effective teaching we can help them excel in all subjects.”
OOCL Renews Books for Asia Partnership
For the second year running, Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), a leading international shipping and logistics company, will underwrite The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia’s shipping costs in delivering thousands of books to educational institutions in nine countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, and peninsular and eastern Malaysia. The 2013 partnership will see the program expand to Burma (also known as Myanmar).
In 2012, the invaluable shipping support provided by OOCL enabled the Books for Asia program to deliver more than 330,000 books worth $15 million. This included transportation costs for the program’s Storytime in Asia campaign, which provided 120,000 crucially needed books to schools and libraries throughout the region, benefitting an estimated 2 million children.
The Ellsworth Bunker Asian Ambassadors Series is a dinner series hosted by The Asia Foundation since 1996, named in honor of statesman Ellsworth Bunker (1894-1984), who served as Ambassador to India, Nepal, and Vietnam, among other posts during his long diplomatic career. The Asia Foundation recently hosted the Honorable Sadako Ogata, senior advisor to Japan International Cooperation Agency and Senator Richard G. Lugar, Ranking Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in Washington, DC:
Hon. Sadako Ogata
The Honorable Sadako Ogata, former president of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and current senior advisor to JICA, was The Asia Foundation’s special guest speaker this past September in Washington, DC, at its 25th Ellsworth Bunker Asian Ambassadors Series. A distinguished diplomat and academic, Mrs. Ogata is one of Japan’s best-known and longest-serving public figures. In recent years, she has played a vital role in assuring international support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. At the dinner, Mrs. Ogata praised The Asia Foundation for its work in advancing development in Asia and for its longstanding commitment to the region, spanning nearly 60 years.
Senator Richard G. Lugar
The Asia Foundation and Indonesia Ambassador to the United States Dr. Dino Patti Djalal honored United States Senator Richard Lugar, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as featured speaker at the October dinner series at the Embassy of Indonesia in Washington, DC. Senator Lugar has been one of the most prominent and crucial voices on foreign policy issues for decades in the Senate. He has been a long-time supporter of The Asia Foundation, and of development and democracy in Asia. He is well-known known for his contribution on one of the most critical issues of our time, the effort to limit the threat from weapons of mass destruction through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, named for the co-sponsors of the legislation, former Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Lugar.
The Asia Foundation’s Environment Programs
Asia is home to the world’s fastest growing economies; some of the most diverse forests, oceans, and rivers; and those most vulnerable to climate change – a combination of factors that can have a profoundly negative impact on development, human well-being, and the incidence of local and regional conflict over natural resources. Watch this new video showing how The Asia Foundation is making a difference by supporting inclusive local action to bring about lasting impact through our environment programs in Asia.
2012 Survey of the Afghan People, Launches in DC and Kabul
On November 14, 2012, The Asia Foundation in Kabul and Washington, DC released Afghanistan in 2012: A Survey of the Afghan People, our eighth annual survey of Afghan citizens across all 34 provinces. In June, a team of Afghan pollsters fanned out across the country to gather first-hand opinions from nearly 6,300 Afghan citizens. See a slideshow and video of the launch event in DC and our interactive website Visualizing Afghanistan – presenting the survey’s findings through data mapping and visualization here.
Robert Schwantes, a former Executive Vice President of The Asia Foundation, passed away on October 25 at the age of 90. Dr. Schwantes worked for the Foundation in many roles from 1954 to 1988 in both Japan and the U.S. After graduating from Harvard in 1943 with a Bachelor of Arts in History, he attended the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School and served in the Pacific Theater. He returned to Harvard and received his Ph.D. in 1950. Prior to joining the Foundation, Dr. Schwantes was a Research Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, which led to the publication of his study, Japanese and Americans: A Century of Cultural Relations. “In Bob’s passing The Asia Foundation has lost one of its pioneers,” said Ambassador Haydn Williams, who served as The Asia Foundation’s president from 1963-1989.
Each year, around 2,000 North Koreans, the vast majority of them women, arrive in South Korea. They make the dangerous trip to South Korea, usually through China, in search of a better life. Yet for most North Koreans living in the South, economic opportunities remain just out of reach. Newly arrived in large, fast-paced cities like Seoul and Busan, North Koreans often find it difficult to adapt and fit in, and often lack the education and modern skill sets required to make a living in South Korea’s competitive economy.
Now, thanks to generous funding from the Kahng Foundation, some of these women from North Korea will attend Ewha Womans University, one of the top universities in South Korea. The Asia Foundation will facilitate the scholarships.
The Stephen and Maria Kahng Scholarships for North Korean Women will help eight North Korean women, who would not otherwise have the financial means to attend university, to obtain a world-class education at Ewha Womans University. With a university education, the scholarship recipients will be better equipped to secure well-paying jobs and thrive in South Korea.