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Asia-Pacific

Reform brings chances and challenges to Myanmar's youth

media Young Myanmarese have high hopes for change Htoo Tay Zar/CC

Myanmar's opening up to the outside world means opportunities for its young people. But they face challenges, too.

In a recording studio by Yangon's Bogyoke park, musicans Jeff and Lone Lone are rehearsing with their four-piece band, the Ikebana.

They belong to first generation of young people growing up under Myanmar's reform process begun two years ago.

"It's a good time to be young," enthuses Lone Lone. "We produce so many talented people."

"We have our cellphones we have internet we can do whatever we like," adds Jeff. "We have easy studios. We have so much facilites. It's so different from our parents – they were in the dark ages, we could say. Because the country situation was very bad. The country situation is changing now, so for our future children it will be much better."

With Myamnar apparently emerging from more than five decades of isolation, the country's youth have good reason to feel optimistic.

But there are challenges ahead, starting with the fact that most young people are not qualified for any but the most basic jobs.

"They don't have skills to work in the field," says 25-year-old Chamda Kyaw, the Executive Director of the leading youth organisation, Pandita. "The country is changing, but mostly the young people are challenging for their education."

Pandita trains young people in how to make the most of democracy, hosting classes on human rights and how to use social media to create change.

Internet penetration of Myanmar is still only around two per cent and many rural communites are yet to benefit from increased access to information, jobs or the changing political landscape.

"For me personally, I think all these changes happening since last year, last two years, are really affecting for young people who are living in Yangon, like me," Pandita's Shunn Lei comments. "For people living in the rural areas they haven't felt the change yet.

In a country with numerous interreligous and interrethnic tensions, social media can prove a double-edged sword.

"It should be used with a good purpose, not for propaganda or making conflict," she says. "Now on Facebook there are many conflicts happening, fighting for the Muslim or the Buddhist community. For the people, especially the young people who are using the internet a lot, they need to have an awareness how the social media can affect the whole country. Also, how they can use social media effectively as part of a social change."

The government has started channelling more resources into education.

"Everybody understands that our education standard dropped tremendously after '88 until now," says education specialist Aye Cho. "With new government they put money into education and health and they reduce on the military side."

General elections are due to be held in 2015.

And with greater funding for education, and a climate increasingly tolerant to free elections, Mynamar's youth will no doubt add their voice to the democratic fray.

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