MAE SOT, Thailand — Nay Satkyar Naing, 19, is like many of the Burmese youth in the Thai border town of Mae Sot who came for a chance to get a better education in the dozens of migrant schools offering free classes.
When he first arrived in 2010, he started volunteering as an English teacher at the Best Friends Library. It was around that time that he discovered a book titled “Bar Le He Lu Nga Ye” (“Human Hell? What is Human Hell?”) by National League for Democracy (NLD) co-founder Win Tin.
In 1989, Win Tin was sentenced to 21 years in Rangoon’s Insein Prison for his writing and involvement with the NLD. He was released in September 2008 after serving nearly 20 years. While in prison, the World Association of Newspapers awarded him the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and the Golden Pen of Freedom.
Naing was inspired by Win Tin’s resilience during his lengthy prison sentence, keeping himself sane by writing mathematical equations and poetry on the walls of his cell with a broken bottle.
“Win Tin had no pen or paper yet he found a way to write. I have all the tools I need, so I asked myself, why can’t I write for my people,” says Naing.
He discussed his ideas with a few of his classmates at the migrant school he attended. The plan was hatched. They would start their own magazine. The small group of friends started with a Facebook group, encouraging other youth to submit their own writing and ideas to their project.
During that time, Naing saved most of the pocket money required for the magazine’s start-up costs.
After six months and many late nights huddled over borrowed computers at the Best Friends Library or the Knowledge Zone migrant school, they launched The Young Generations’ Note.
The first issue was 22 pages long.
Now, half a year and six issues later, The Young Generations’ Note has grown to 48 pages. The topics that grace the pages of the journal have also expanded. There are seven pages dedicated to Burmese and international news, one long story, three short stories, several articles, a book review and even an astrology section. In the last issue of the journal’s letter section, migrant workers shared their feelings and knowledge about the often difficult task of obtaining a Thai work permit.
Initially distributed in Mae Sot’s teashops, factories and migrant schools, it now has readers much farther afield. It has a regular home in Chiang Mai’s Best Friends Library and Aung San’s Jarmoon Library in Pegu, and there are even a few overseas subscribers in countries such as Switzerland and Germany.
From the beginning, The Young Generations’ Note was going to be a literary journal, says Naing.
“There are so many political publications in Mae Sot, but people who live here have to struggle to survive, so we wanted to make something that would elevate their minds, making them feel good about themselves.”
The Young Generations’ Note encourages youth and community members to find their own voice within the pages of the magazine.
“They read it and then they want to submit their own writing to our journal,” says Naing.
It’s very important for the younger generation to formulate their own ideas, he adds.
“Burmese youth need to change the way we think. We have to learn to not be so afraid to criticize and be analytical. But in order to achieve this, we need to believe in ourselves,” says Naing.
Thu Tha San, 23, has been part of The Young Generations’ Note since it started. Before she came to Mae Sot in 2010, she didn’t read a lot of books, although she wanted to. There was library in her small village in Mon State, she says, but most of the books were destroyed by termites and it was always closed.
She had a dream to open her own library in her village “so young people wouldn’t always have to go to another country to learn.”
“It’s very important to create education opportunities for our people,” says San.
Her involvement with The Young Generations’ Note has given her the confidence and support to make that dream a reality. By the time the first issue of the journal hit the streets of Mae Sot, she opened a small library in her aunt’s home in her village.
“I started with 20 books. Now we have 350,” says San with a proud smile.
She has even designed library cards.
San’s library serves a unique role in rural areas, giving people the chance to “open their eyes” in places where the Internet is too slow to use and televisions and even radios are too expensive for many people.
Kharomi, 20, who has also been part of The Young Generations’ Note since its inception, echoes San’s concerns regarding the lack of information and education available to rural people.
In her Ta’ang (Palaung ) village in northern Shan State, people don’t know anything about NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s activities, she says.
It’s like they are “living in darkness,” says Kharomi.
“We can’t just think about our farms and rice. What if the government just confiscates our land? It’s important that rural people learn to start thinking critically about what is happening around them,” she says.
This lack of critical thinking is a direct result of the absence of media, says Kharomi.
Before she joined The Young Generations’ Note she had never written an article. Now, with new skills and an increased confidence from playing a leading role in the journal, Kharomi says she is ready to “take on the responsibility” of creating media in her homeland, where “no one is doing this.”
“Young people are responsible for the next generation. We need to create change; otherwise everything will stay the same. But for the change to happen, we have to start thinking differently. It all starts with quality education. This is not available in Burma and is the main problem,” says Kharomi.
Recently, The Young Generation’s Note has started expanding its activities, offering free media training for migrants and refugees in creative writing, photography and video production.
And to reach an even wider audience—and potential sources of support—the group has also set up a website and created a fundraising campaign on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo.com, through which they hope to raise US $8,800 to rent an office, buy a color photocopier and increase their distribution from 170 to 500 copies.
Inspired by a leader from another generation, they hope to spark an intellectual revolution among members of their own—one issue at a time.