Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her steadfast efforts to move Myanmar toward democracy, told Hawaii students today that it takes courage and compassion to achieve peace, plus a lot of hard work.
“Courage is not just physical courage, not just something that you display only on the battlefield,” she told high school students gathered at the Blaisdell Center for a Pillars of Peace forum. “Sometimes courage means the refusal to go up on the battlefield. The courage to say, ‘This is enough, we are going to put a stop to this.’”
Suu Kyi, 67, is in Hawaii at the invitation of Pillars of Peace Hawaii, a program of the Hawaii Community Foundation; as well as Rotary International, the East-West Center, and the Myanmar Association of Hawaii.
After spending a total of 15 years under house arrest in Myanmar, also known as Burma, Suu Kyi was released in 2010 as the country began to relax restrictions on civic life after decades of repressive military rule.
Suu Kyi and other members of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, were elected to Parliament last year in the first contested elections since 1990. They took their seats in Parliament alongside members of the military who had ordered them held as political prisoners.
“I believe that we have made some headway,” Suu Kyi said. “We have not yet achieved democracy. But I think the idea of sorting our differences through dialogue is catching on.”
She was just 2 years old when her father, Gen. Aung San, was assassinated in 1945 after negotiating his country’s independence from Britain.
On Friday, Suu Kyi met with Hawaii leaders, including the governor, at the East-West Center, and said she hopes to learn from Hawaii’s example.
“We are a nation of many ethnicities, but we have never achieved the harmony that we wish for,” she said. “We are still divided in many ways. I hope to learn from the people of Hawaii how we can reconcile differences and build unity out of diversity, how we can make diversity a strength rather than a weakness for our nation.”
Along with the Nobel, awarded in 1991, Suu Kyi has received the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament, and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. The honors were bestowed in absentia while she was under house arrest.
This evening she will give the keynote speech and receive the Hawaii Peace Award at the Rotary Global Peace Forum, which has brought together more than 800 delegates from 30 countries.
“I was really inspired by her,” said Kawai Punahele, a senior at Castle High School who attended the Pillars of Peace forum. “It made me a lot more appreciative of our country and the fact that we have a democracy. We really do take it for granted.”