Carleton hosts Burmese Nobel laureate in first Canadian address

Carleton hosted the first Canadian live chat via Skype with Aung San Suu Kyi, who spoke to students, faculty and staff from her home in Burma. James Park Photo

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had her first ever live conversation with Canadians – via Skype – at Carleton University.

From her home in Myanmar, where she spent nearly 15 of the last 20 years under house arrest, Suu Kyi was able to answer questions from students, journalists, activists and the Ottawa-Burmese community who gathered at Carleton for the event on Feb. 29.

“It’s an incredible privilege to welcome Dr. Kyi at Carleton University,” said Carleton President Roseann O’Reilly Runte. “To speak to someone whose voice has been silenced for so long, who is a Nobel laureate and who is a world leader, is a privilege not every university has – in fact, we’re the only ones.”

In 2011, Carleton awarded Suu Kyi a honourary degree. Speaking with the university, she reached out to Canadians for help in the democratization, education and health of her country.

“The way in which you can continue to help us is to keep up your awareness of what is happening in Burma,” she told the audience. “Don’t be too optimistic, don’t be too pessimistic, try to see things as they are and try to keep contact with the ordinary people of Burma.”

Suu Kyi said donations of medicine, money and time can go a long way if done through the right institutions. Eventually, she said she would like to see Burmese students attend Carleton to study.

“We would like to expand our educational and scholarship programs,” she told the group of about 100 who were on hand for the live chat. “The young people of Burma have been cut off from the rest of the world for so long and we need to repair all the damage that has been done by these years of isolation.”

Given her personal interest in education and young people, Suu Kyi was pleased to have the opportunity to speak directly with university students in Canada via the online Skype feed.

“I want to get in touch with young people everywhere,” she said. “I want to be a bridge between our young people and your young people, and young people in other parts of the world.”

Those in the audience at Carleton, were thrilled to be able to have such unprecedented access to Suu Kyi.

“She’s my hero, she’s been my hero probably since I was a little kid,” said University of Toronto graduate Jasmine Bowen, whose grandparents are from Burma. “For so long it was absolutely impossible to speak with her, so this an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

For Bowen’s grandfather, the event was tough to watch.

“I was emotional to see her there,” said Nyun Hlaing, who immigrated to Canada 50 years ago. “She’s been waiting so many years to get even this little stage, but there is no other leader who will do what she does. She is our only hope.”

According to Suu Kyi, there is hope indeed.

“If the government is truly interested in reform, I think it would be very difficult for them to ignore the voice of the people,” said Suu Kyi.

“Basically it is the will of the people of Burma which is beginning to make itself felt and we have been able to do this because of the help that we have received from our friends abroad.”

Bowen hopes Suu Kyi’s address will inspire more Canadians to help the people in Burma and points to Suu Kyi’s philosophy of encouraging people to use their freedom to promote freedom in her country.

“We have free speech and all of these things that people just take for granted, so I hope people will do whatever they can, whether it’s posting a message on Facebook or sending over something as simple as Tylenol,” said Bowen.

The event was moderated by CBC’s Evan Solomon. The organization Canadian Friends of Burma helped arranged Suu Kyi’s appearance.

This entry was written by Elizabeth McSheffrey and posted in the issue. Tags applied to this article are: . Leave a comment, bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

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