This past week has been the first of many events: my first day working with my community partner, my first haircut in three months, my first couple of productive hours since the end of final exams. Although my independent project has taken on a starkly different meaning in this remote period, I have had ample opportunity to reflect back on what my work truly means. The work that I’m doing hasn’t drastically changed: I was scheduled to work in data analysis and present my findings to local governments of Myanmar, and for much of my first week, I have replicated that same work. Why I’m doing this work, however, has been much harder to unpack when I’m 8,400 miles away from Yangon City.
My partner organization is incredibly useful in helping accelerate reform in these local townships, something that is very apparent from my work already. On the index that I’ve been working on, from 2018 to 2020, the Asia Foundation has managed to improve indicators in almost every single category when they’ve shared results to specific lawmakers. Originally a part of my work this summer was supposed to be traveling to these townships and presenting the work, arguably the most important part of “being with” these communities. It’s much harder to replicate this sort of relationship working remotely, where it’s easy to fall into the trap of “working for” a partner community. I’ve tried to keep this in mind and communicate effectively with my mentor to make sure that I understand how my work is being used and how exactly it is impacting my partner community. I still have some outstanding questions on how, when, or even if I’ll be able to directly communicate with those policymakers in Myanmar. But for now, I have to keenly focus on contributing to the best of my ability, while being mindful of the people I’m trying to engage.