Aung San Suu Kyi traveled to Thailand this week for the World Economic Forum on East Asia. It's the first time in 24 years the ruling junta allowed her to leave Myanmar. In Bangkok she'll be asking for help to rebuild her country's ruined economy.
Suu Kyi, left, now 66, has been fighting for human dignity all her life, by advocating democracy, clean government, and the rule of law. For most of the past 24 years she's been a political prisoner under house arrest.
Her first stop in Bangkok Wednesday was a neighborhood where Myanmarese laborers live. There's no work for them back home so they've moved by the thousands to Thailand and other countries to find jobs.
Equal pay for equal work isn't practiced in Southeast Asia, and workers from Myanmar are on the bottom rung of the migrant labor pool. They're lucky to earn US$10 a day.
In Bangkok, Suu Kyi spoke to a thousand of her countrymen. She showed the simplicity, grace, humility, and intelligence that have inspired her own people and millions around the world.
'While you are here,' she told the crowd, 'be respectful and acquire skills. Be systematic in the way you approach your work. Try to see both sides of any situation that arises. I wish you good health and wealth, that you be free from danger and can come back home as soon as possible.'
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Myanmar ranked 180 out of 182 countries on the latest corruption perceptions index. Per capita GDP is US$1,300, about the same as Rwanda. Life expectancy for its 55 million people is just 65 years, compared to 83 for Singaporeans and 80 for Americans.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a majority in parliament in 1990. By then the generals had already put her under house arrest. A couple of years ago they gave in to international pressure and released Suu Kyi. She was allowed back into public life and won election to the lower house of parliament. With the political progress, international sanctions are loosening and foreign investment is set to return.
Earlier this month, the IMF's mission chief for Myanmar said the country faces a historic opportunity to jump-start economic development. Appropriate reforms, he said, like lifting currency controls, could accelerate growth and raise living standards.
Myanmar's rich natural resources, young labor force (the average age of the population is 26 years), and proximity to China and India fill the future with promise.
So, finally, does Suu Kyi's freedom.
Source: The Straits Times (Singapore) and others