The Irrawaddy

Karen Group Doubles Up on Young Leader Award for 10th Anniversary

YANGON — Two Karen have won the Padoh Mahn Sha Young Leader Award for 2017 for their contributions to their community by the Phan Foundation, established in memory of slain Karen leader Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan.

“Normally only one person is given the Padoh Mahn Sha Young Leader Award each year, but an exception has been made to mark the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan,” the foundation announced in a statement on Wednesday.

The award comes with a $2,000 grant — paid for with public donations — to support the winner’s work. Recipients must report back to the foundation on how they have used the money, which must be spent in line with UK charity laws.

Both recipients — Saw Than Kyaw Soe, also known as Saw Eh Tho, and Naw Hser Hser — told The Irrawaddy that the award was recognition of their commitment, passion and contributions to the advancement of both their peers and the next generation.

Naw Hser Hser, 28, said the award has inspired her to “take more responsibility” for her community. She is the Standing Committee member of Karen Women Organization (KWO) and has worked with the group for the past decade. In 2017 she also became joint general secretary 1 of the Women’s League of Burma.

“I am really proud to be recognized with this award because Padoh was a great leader,” said Naw Hser Hser, who spent her childhood displaced by the fighting between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw.

“He was very committed to the youth. He supported and encouraged the young generation and he put great expectations on the youth. He knew that the Karen revolutionary struggle would not end in the short term, even under his leadership, so he focused on empowering youth,” she said.

“He believed that only when the youth understood could they take the leading role in the Karen’s fight [for autonomy and equality]. Therefore, his contributions still reach many dedicated youth even though he is not with us in person any longer,” she added.

Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan was gunned down by Tatmadaw agents in his home in 2008. He was the KNU’s general secretary at the time.

Naw Hser Hser provides capacity-building trainings to her peers and advocates for the Karen abroad. More recently she has provided technical assistance to the KNU in its peace negotiations with the government, helping conduct public consultations with the Karen community since the KNU signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in 2015.

Saw Eh Tho, 34, said there were still many more outstanding Karen youth who deserve the award for their own contributions to the community.

He said the award has made his “dream become reality,” having been inspired by the dedication of past winners to the Karen national cause.

Saw Eh Tho is the second secretary of the Overseas Karen Refugee Social Organization (OKRSO) and has been working with the group since 2007. Based in Bangkok, it was formed in 1992 to provide relief, education and healthcare to the Karen community and to promote Karen culture.

“The Padoh Mahn Sha Award is influential,” he said. “This is not just a recognition of my 10 years of social work, but also the work of my mother organization, the OKRSO, and the work of many others in the social development sector who have been working so hard for our people. This Young Leader Award is indeed prestigious for Karen youth.”

He urged Karen youth “to show great perseverance” in the Karen national cause, wherever they were and whatever field they were in, and “to use our time wisely.”

The awards will be presented to the winners on April 5 in Htantapin Township, Pegu Region.