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Our partners in Myanmar

An Interview with Oaktree's Myanmar Partnership Manager

Last week I sat down with Kirsty Dempsey, the Partnership Manager for Myanmar here at Oaktree. Oaktree’s partnership with Myanmar is part of our International Youth Exchange Initiative, which forms peer partnerships with like-minded organisations in the Asia-Pacific.

Oaktree volunteers at Global Platform Myanmar

What is International Youth Exchange?

We aim to connect young people from Australia to young people from like-minded organisations across the Asia-Pacific, to share skills and knowledge. We form peer partnerships with youth organisations that want to achieve what Oaktree’s trying to achieve - youth empowerment and working together to eradicate poverty.  

You’re going on an IYE trip to Myanmar later this year, what are you hoping to achieve?

In November this year we're participating in the Conference for the Australia-Myanmar Institute. The theme of the conference is Myanmar’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Oaktree and our Partner Act!onAid Myanmar have worked together to write a paper on the theme of ‘Youth in Governance’, which we will be presenting at the conference. We will also co-run some workshops for the participants of the conference on youth participation, which is an area Oaktree has been exploring recently. The conference organisers and I both agree that no conversation about the future should happen without youth in the room and we’re hoping to bring that perspective and ensure the voices of young people, both local and Australian, are heard.

How long has Oaktree been partnered with Myanmar’s Action Aid?

Oaktree has been working in partnership with a branch of Act!onAid called Global Platform Myanmar since 2015 and since then, we have collaborated on two major engagements. In June 2016, four representatives from Global Platform and Act!onAid Myanmar came to Australia to participate in Oaktree’s pre-election campaign, the Seat Stakeout. We were very lucky to have them join us for this campaign as we were able to learn from their style of campaigning and they learnt from the experience too!

Our next major engagement was in January this year when five Oaktree volunteers went to Yangon to participate in a training course run by their youth hub for empowerment, Global Platform Myanmar. The 10-day training course - called the Regional Training of Trainers - included people from diverse backgrounds within Myanmar and also some international participants and trainers. It was a truly incredible and challenging experience for all participants involved, but also a good example of Oaktree’s approach to a partnership - a process of learning from each other.

Training session at Act!onAid Myanmar

How does an IYE trip differ from Voluntourism?

International Youth Exchange is a broader program based on shared values of the power of youth. We strongly believe that we can achieve more collectively, rather than working alone. The initiative is also based on Oaktree’s partnership principles which strongly guide our work – these include equity, mutual benefit and knowledge sharing.

We work really hard to ensure our trips are mutually beneficial for both Oaktree and the peer-partner. This challenges the power imbalance you see in voluntourism trips, where volunteers actually take more from the organisation than they give. In our partnerships we’re giving something back and it’s equitable.

What can young people in Myanmar teach Oaktree volunteers?

I think there’s a lot to learn from young people in Myanmar. During the training in January, I was amazed and astounded by everything the Myanmar volunteers knew and their passion and ability to get things done. Here at Oaktree we’re all volunteers, studying, working part-time and doing all these other things, and they’re pretty much the same over there, just in a different political context.