Myanmar Peace Negotiator Works at Grassroots, National Levels

By CHRISTOPHER CLYMER KURTZ | September 6th, 2018

Ja Nan Lahtaw MA ‘04 facilitates the highest levels of peace talks in Myanmar – but also engagement at the community and grassroots level. Sustainable peace, she said, requires both.

The technical advisor to the peace political dialogue process and consultant to the technical advisory team of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Lahtaw returned this summer to the Summer Peacebuilding Institute for a course in facilitation led by Professor Catherine Barnes.

In Myanmar, Lahtaw spends much of her time convening and facilitating negotiations between the government and ethnic armed organizations as well as between various ethnic armed groups. Since gaining independence from Britain at the end of World War II, Myanmar has suffered protracted civil war.

Lahtaw is also the executive director of the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation, founded in 2000 by her late father The Rev. Dr. Saboi Jum and other leaders.

Lahtaw’s study at CJP was facilitated at her father’s request by Carol Gowler MA ‘03 and David Tegenfeldt MA ‘04, HOPE International community development workers in Myanmar who attended at the same time. Gowler and Tegenfeldt have also facilitated and supported – through sponsorship or the securing of funds – the studies of other peacebuilders at CJP and SPI: Kanyaw Paw MA ‘04, S’Lont Mun MA ‘05, Seng Pan MA ‘10, Mung San Maji MA ‘13, and Tu Hkawn MA ‘14. They sponsored Shalom’s associate director Nang Raw to attend SPI. Shalom’s office manager Zau Ma Lahtaw has also attended SPI and another CJP graduate, Joanne Lauterjung MA ‘14, plays an ongoing in-country role.

Those connections have resulted in visits to the country by CJP faculty Jayne Docherty, Catherine Barnes, Ron Kraybill, John Paul Lederach and David Brubaker, whose input through workshops or long-term facilitation has influenced those serving in leadership roles in the country’s peace process.

Lahtaw said that her graduate studies led to a redesign of Shalom’s program and shaped its peacebuilding strategy. “Learning from here is totally reflected in what we do,” she said.

Shalom’s ongoing efficacy is built on a foundation established by Lahtaw’s father. Since the early 1980s, Saboi Jum was a local mediator between the government and the KIO; he facilitated a 1994 ceasefire agreement that would last for 17 years. Through that work and as director of Shalom until 2014, Saboi Jum earned the trust of the government and military as well as ethnic armed organizations, trust that Lahtaw has maintained and deepened.

With partners, Shalom nurtures youth as community leaders, has a trauma healing program, facilitated the forming of the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process, and in 2012 created the Civil Society Forum for Peace.

Lahtaw’s passion for her work comes from seeing the suffering and despair of people affected by Myanmar’s ongoing conflicts. “I have to see the change,” she said, “but I also recognize that peace will not materialize tomorrow.”

When she becomes frustrated by formal negotiations, she finds hope in grassroots efforts. “You see more options – you see more energy – at that level,” she said.

Comments are closed.