Mandalay Students Go Green

By San Yamin Aung 18 June 2014

RANGOON — A project to educate Burma’s students about the environment and teach them ways to reduce their individual carbon footprints was launched in Mandalay on Monday, an organizer said.

“Students are young. We hope if we guide their behavior from a young age, they will maintain the environment when they are older and they can participate actively in their later years. So we are targeting students,” Win Lai Lai, an organizer and project coordinator, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

The so-called “Green Campus” Initiative is being funded by the University of Montana in the United States, and organized by Burmese university students who participated in an environmentally centered course through the US State Department’s Study of the United States Institutes (SUSIs) Student Leaders program.

Win Lai Lai said the project was launched in Mandalay because there was a relative dearth of environmental groups working in Burma’s second city compared with Rangoon.

“We are starting at Phaung Daw Oo monastic high school, which has around 2,000 students. We are giving reusable water containers to the students and holding trainings, discussions and workshops on environmental education by inviting guest environmentalists,” she said.

Win Lai Lai said getting permission from the government to implement the project at state schools and universities was expected to be a long and difficult process, so organizers had decided that the Green Campus pilot was best implemented at a monastic school first. There are plans to hold a debate about environmental issues at Mandalay Technological University and to implement programs in other townships.

“We will give trainings to teachers from monastic schools in Mingun town in Sagaing Region [Division]. Our intention is to be a ‘Green Campus,’ which means the whole school compound is clean with no littering and a green mindset,” she said.

“The country’s awareness concerning the environment is still weak and environmental issues take a backseat to other issues,” she added.

While awareness may be low, environmental protests have proven to be some of the most vocal and successful campaigns undertaken in Burma in recent years. Construction of the controversial Myitsone dam was suspended following a popular outcry over its environmental impacts, and environmental complaints related to the Letpadaung mining project have prompted the mine’s operator to revise its contract to put US$2 million annually toward environmental conservation. In the latter case, however, local residents continue to insist that the project be shut down.