What were you doing before you came to Tufts? Over the past 10 years I have worked with different organizations including ICRC, CARE International, UNOPS, ECHO, and IRC (Thailand). Before I came to Tufts, I worked with the Southeast Asia Regional office of IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent) based in Bangkok, Thailand. I was the program officer of the Mekong region covering Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. I worked to build up the capacity of the national societies of the Red Cross family, focusing on community resilience and community-based disaster risk reduction.
What brought you to Tufts? I came to Tufts after about 10 years in the humanitarian sector. I was learning by doing the whole time, so it was time to improve my theoretical knowledge and background. I was particularly interested in Tufts because Tufts is one of the most reputable universities in the US and the MAHA program is designed for mid-career students. This meant that I would learn from professors and colleagues with significant experience, but different backgrounds. Also, the program is just one year as opposed to two years, so I was glad that I wouldn’t have to be out of work for too long.
What did you gain from the MAHA program? Sometimes in the field we do things without asking ourselves why we are doing them. This program gave me a chance to think about what I had done, why I did it, and what is right and wrong.
How is the program different from what you expected? I really liked the classroom culture. If you came to class unprepared, you could not contribute to the discussion. This was different from the classroom culture that I was used to where there was very limited interaction between students and teachers. At Tufts, the professors facilitate your learning process in a way I had not previously experienced. The professor only spoke for a quarter of the class while three quarters was for discussion. Group work was also very helpful because it created a realistic work environment.
How did the program change the way you think about humanitarian response? We normally talk about humanitarian action and development as separate things, so I took several classes about development to improve my understanding of both sectors. The program helped me understand that humanitarianism and development don’t have to be two separate things. Of course the funding mechanism and approaches to humanitarianism and development can be different, but they need to go hand in hand. Today I work mostly in the development sector. When I started in this sector, I was out of my comfort zone. However, what I learned in the MAHA program fed into the knowledge that I already had and made it easier for me to combine humanitarian and development work.
Where did your career go after the MAHA program? After Tufts I joined the Danish Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar and have been working as the development advisor for three and a half years. The Danish embassy has a different approach from other donors—they established an embassy in Myanmar in 2015 and no longer manage programs from Bangkok. I was a pioneer staff member heavily involved in designing the entirely new five-year Denmark-Myanmar country program for the embassy. Through the country program, we fund government departments directly using their own system as well as some INGOs and UN agencies engaging in development and humanitarian work in Myanmar.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you? I think the fact that I work in development would surprise my former humanitarian colleagues. Humanitarians always say that they are different because of the four principles (humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence) and that development is political. In my opinion the more we can work together, the more effective we will be.
What is your educational background? I have an M.Sc. in disaster preparedness, mitigation, and management from the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand and a B.A. in literature from the University of Yangon in Myanmar.