“Morally we were lifted, we were welcomed,” Than said of his time at Colby. “If you say where you find complete freedom and human rights, I have to say no other place rather than Colby.”
In the fall of 2013, the Oak Institute welcomed 2013 Oak Fellows Maung Maung “Tony” Than and Mya Nandar Aung of Myanmar to campus.
Maung Maung Than and Mya Nandar Aung have worked with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to protect the rights of stateless people in western Myanmar, and are working with various organizations to encourage Buddhist-Muslim reconciliation.
The state of Rakhine in western Myanmar has a history of tension between Buddhists and Muslims, many of whom are not officially recognized as citizens of Myanmar. One marginalized group, the Rohingya, faces a wide variety of human rights abuses, including extortion, forced eviction, destruction of property, forced labor, and restrictions on their freedom of movement.
The fellows understand both sides of the conflict in Rakhine, as one fellow identifies as Muslim, while the other was born to a Muslim father and a Buddhist mother. Despite their different upbringings, both Maung Maung Than and Myanandar Aung work to protect the rights of local peoples and improve their living conditions through monitoring and reporting abuses and educating community members about universal human rights.
When the riots broke between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in 2012, Aung and Than were imprisoned for six months without evidence. The following year, Aung and Than came to Colby. While at Colby, Aung’s father, a Muslim community leader and a physician, was imprisoned in Myanmar. She was working tirelessly from Maine to secure his release and got help from students, who wrote letters to their representatives in Congress and contacted their oces. “One of their oces actually called me, and they were telling me that they received the letter and they will do whatever they can do within their capacity,” she said. “We felt very supported.”
His co-fellow and wife felt the same. “It is one of the best experiences in our life,” Aung said. “My daughter never forgot her first experience at the school, the Alfond Center. She’s still talking about her teachers, her classmates. She was hardly three while we were there, but her memories are still vivid.”