Exploring Leadership: Burma's AUNG SAN SUU KYI

November 17, 2010

Students consider leaders in their own lives, think about the qualities of leadership exhibited by Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (who has just been released) and write messages to Suu Kyi.


Students will:
  • explore leadership in their own lives and that of their communities 
  • look at the qualities of different leaders 
  • compare the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma to the military junta running the country
  • read the various messages that Aung San Suu Kyi shared with the people of Burma, the generals in charge of that country, and the international community after being released from house arrest on Saturday, November 13, 2010.
  • compare the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma to the military junta running the country
  • compile messages for Aung San Suu Kyi
Social and Emotional Skills
  • awareness of different kinds of leadership 
  • assertiveness (being strong without being mean)
  • cooperation, working together and power in numbers
  • doing one's part
  • Today's agenda on chart paper or the chalkboard
  • Different color post-its (yellow and green, for example) 


(10 minutes)

People who have affected us
Ask students to think about someone who has had a profound impact on their life. Write the person's name on a green post-it.
Ask students to share with a partner how this person has affected them. What qualities does this person have that allow him or her to have an impact on others?
Now write one important quality this person has (or had) on a separate green post-it.
People who have affected our community
Ask students to think about someone who has had a profound impact on their community. A community could be their neighborhood, their ethnic or linguistic community, their nationality (the U.S. or another country where their family comes from), or any other community that they consider themselves to be a part of.
Have students write this person's name on a yellow post-it.
Share with a partner how this person had an impact on their community. Talk also about the qualities this person has (or had) that allowed them to affect the community.
Now write one important quality this person has or had on a separate yellow post-it.
Ask a few students to collect the post-its. Have them put the names on the green post-its on one poster or wall and the names on the yellow post-its on another poster or wall. Ask them to put the green-post-its with peoples' qualities in a third location and the yellow post-its with qualities in a fourth spot. 

Check agenda

(2 minutes)
Explain to students that in today's lesson they'll be exploring the idea of leadership and using the Southeast Asian nation of Burma as a case study. 

Gallery-walk and debrief

(10 minutes)
Ask students to get up and walk quietly around the room to read and take in what names and qualities have been posted around the room. As students return to their seats ask them some or all of the following questions:
  • What do you notice about what has been posted around the room?
  • Do you see similarities or differences in the names people wrote down?
  • Are they mostly people who have had a positive impact on us/our communities, or a negative impact? 
  • Do you see similarities or differences in the qualities students wrote down? 
  • Are the qualities mostly positive or negative?
  • Is it fair to say that these people are leaders in our lives/our communities?
  • Do you usually think of the people posted around the room as leaders? Why? Why not?
  • Do you think of the qualities posted around the room as leadership qualities? Why? Why not?
Depending on the people and qualities students listed, make sure to point to (or raise) the fact that leaders can affect our lives in both positive and negative ways.

Different Kinds of Leadership in Burma

(13 minutes)
Elicit and explain that Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced ONG-SAN-SUU-CHEE) is an influential leader in Burma, a country in southeast Asia. This past weekend, Suu Kyi was released after seven years of house arrest. Mother Su, as she is affectionately known by the Burmese people, was detained at her home by the country's oppressive military regime for 15 of the past 21 years.
Physically she may not be an intimidating figure but Suu Kyi's powerful speeches, her moral courage and her dedication to her country have inspired people in Burma and beyond. At great personal sacrifice, she has continued to live in her Burmese jail and to speak out about the need for democratic reform in Burma. In 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her "nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights."
On hearing that Suu Kyi was released, President Obama said: "While the Burmese regime has gone to extraordinary lengths to isolate and silence Aung San Suu Kyi, she has continued her brave fight for democracy, peace, and change in Burma." He continued by saying: "She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world." (CNN, 11/13/10).
The generals who have kept Suu Kyi captive have ruled Burma with an iron fist for 40 years, crushing all political dissent. In 1990 they ignored a landslide election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition political party, the National League for Democracy Party. The generals have used violence, intimidation, threats and fear to try to control the Burmese people. Most Burmese people live in abject poverty, while Burma's leaders have amassed immense personal wealth for themselves and their families.
Ask your student to think about the two different kinds of leadership in Burma. 
Is there any overlap between the qualities of the leaders in Burma and the qualities students listed on their post-its in the earlier activity?
Both Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals have had a profound impact on the people of Burma.
  • How have they affected the people of Burma?
  • What do your students think about their different ways of affecting people?
  • Which of the leaders do your students think is more powerful?
  • Why do your students think the generals have placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 of the past 21 years? Why in the words of President Obama have they "gone to extraordinary lengths to isolate and silence Aung San Suu Kyi?"
It is important to emphasize that leadership does not exist in isolation. It is followers who give leaders their power through their support. It can also be followers who choose to withhold their support from leaders they do not trust or believe in. Aung San Suu Kyi's power lies in her ability to mobilize others. It is this that the generals fear in her and why they have put her under house arrest for so many years.
Suu Kyi is part of a large movement of people in Burma who have repeatedly risked their lives to demand democracy. In 2007, for example, students and opposition political activists, including women, led a series of demonstrations that were eventually crushed by riot police. Some 700 people were beaten and tear-gassed. When she was released, Suu Kyi noted that she was merely the most famous of more than 2,000 political prisoners who are still in captivity in Burma.


(10 minutes)
When released from prison this past weekend Aung San Suu Kyi's message to her captors was that she bore no antagonism towards them. Her message to her supporters was not to give up hope.
Excerpts from her various speeches and interviews with the press are included in the student handout below.
Ask your students to read the handout in silence, then get into pairs to discuss the messages. Next, ask the pairs come up with a message of their own for Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma.


(5 minutes) 
Ask a few volunteers to read out their messages.

Comments by AUNG SAN SUU KYI

after her release on November 13, 2010
To the thousands of supporters who had gathered outside of her home on Saturday Aung San Suu Kyi said:
"The basis of democratic freedom is freedom of speech. If we want to get what we want, we have to do it in the right way."
"Democracy is when the people keep a government in check. Please do not give up hope. There is no reason to lose heart."
"Even if you are not political, politics will come to you."
She told CNN:
"We would like to form a network of people working for democracy" and open a dialogue with "those who are in a position to do something, to change the situation in Burma for the better."
Asked what she would say to Burma's top military leader General Than Shwe, she said:
"I think what we are looking for is dialogue, so I'm not just thinking about what I have to say to him. I think what we have to think about is what we have to say to each other." She added that she would like to discuss issues "relevant to the interests of Burma's people."
"I may be detained again," Suu Kyi said. "I just do what I can do at the moment."
"We have to work together," she said. "That is the main message. Those inside the country have to work together and also those supporters outside."
Several days after her release, Suu Kyi said:
"I'm not going to be able to do it alone. You've got to do it with me. One person alone can't do anything as important as bringing change and democracy to a country."
Sources for quotes include:

This lesson was written by Marieke van Woerkom for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email us at info@morningsidecenter.org.
Marieke van Woerkom is an educator and trainer who works with Morningside Center. She has helped young people and adults around the world learn skills to resolve conflict and foster cross-cultural understanding.