YANGON, Myanmar >> Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi announced the formation of a foundation based in Hawaii that will raise money to improve health care and education in Myanmar.
The idea for the foundation came out of Suu Kyi’s visit to Honolulu last year and she made the announcement in a speech Sunday to more than 350 international and local journalists here for a conference organized by Hawaii’s East West Center.
She said the goal of the foundation is a "simple, but necessary cause," to rebuild Myanmar’s healthcare and education system starting with Yangon University and the Yangon General Hospital, which have deteriorated after decades of military rule.
Miemie Winn Byrd, an associate professor at the Asia Pacific Center for Strategic Studies in Honolulu, is the chairwoman of the foundation. Karen Knudsen, a former member of the Hawaii Board of Education and director of external affairs at the East West Center, is in charge of public relations.
Honorary co-chairs are former first ladies Laura Bush, who was outspoken as first lady about Suu Kyi’s house arrest and the military junta that ruled the country, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who made a historic trip to Myanmar as Secretary of State after the government began democratic reforms and freed Suu Kyi.
Another supporter is actor Michelle Yeoh, who also spoke at the kick-off lunch. Yeoh played Suu Kyi in the 2011 movie about Suu Kyi’s life.
"Just as Daw Suu has made a difference, you and I can bring hope to help and bring dignity to the people of Myanmar," Yeoh said. Daw is an honorific term in Myanmar.
Before speaking about the foundation, Yeoh, who is from Malaysia, offered her sympathy for the victims of the Malaysia Airlines crash.
Byrd said the seeds for the foundation were planted with Suu Kyi’s visit in January 2013, when she met with the Burmese community in Hawaii and urged them to help Myanmar as it opens and modernizes. Byrd was born in Myanmar and immigrated to the United States as a child.
Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s assassinated independence leader Gen. Aung San, leads the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party in Myanmar. The party won elections in 1990, but the military junta that ran the country annulled the election.
Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest following the election, advocating non-violent change toward democracy for Myanmar and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
She was elected to parliament in 2012 and her party is seeking to change a clause in the constitution that prohibits her from running for president in 2015.
Her speech to journalists here Sunday on the "Challenges of a free press in emerging and established democracies," echoed remarks she made at the East West Center during her visit in January.
Suu Kyi said the media must not only report truthfully, but responsibly and consider whether what they report will improve the lives of the people.
"When you talk about greater freedom, you must also talk about greater responsibility," Suu Kyi said.