In an essay for Forbes.com, SAIS alumna Darlene Damm considers Myanmar's recent political change and asks, "How in the world did a country that was previously listed by the State Department as an 'Outpost of Tyranny' turn into a fledgling democracy practically overnight?"
Damm proposes that the country's turnaround was the result of three things: Observing the Arab Spring, Myanmar's dictatorship opted for a speedy transition to democracy rather than an unpredictable social revolution; outstanding leaders, such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, made extraordinary efforts to engage the Myanmar dictatorship regardless of risk; and "an army of quiet, hopeful changemakers" worked toward a peaceful transition.
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I met some of this army in 2003, when I was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University SAIS, and spent a summer in Yangon, helping open a small experimental high school for Burmese students who wanted international humanitarian careers. The school I worked with in Yangon was started by two dedicated Americans who used their retirement accounts to fund their work. Their friends paid for student scholarships and opened their homes as host families. Johns Hopkins University also played an important role by supporting academic work in Myanmar, such as that by Dr. Bridget Welsh, and inviting Burmese government and civilian students to study in the U.S.