Purpose of the Award: Established in 2008 by Burma Lifeline, the Sao Thusandi Leadership Award honors young people from Shan State who are committed to taking a leadership role in establishing a democratic, peaceful and thriving Shan State. The purpose of the Award is to encourage and support the awardees in their work to uphold local customs and culture and to inspire others in Shan State to follow their example in pursuit of a democratic society in their homeland, which presents opportunities for all. US $3,000 is given to the awardee.
2013 Recipient: Sai Sam Phoon Hseng
Background: Sai Sam Phoon Hseng attended school in Nam Kham. He then studied with the American Center in Yangon. Committed to self-study, he completed an online course with the Open University at Indiana. On May 2, 2008, when cyclone Nargis hit Burma, he and other youth volunteers raised funds for the Shans living in the affected area. They bought emergency supplies and food and made day trips to many locations and helped villagers.
In 2009 – 2010, he received a scholarship and attended the State University of New York at Plattsburgh graduating with a B.A. in Political Science. Later, he was an intern at the Euro Burma Office in Brussels, where he learned about the EU policies towards Burma and the European Union system. Upon his return, he has been working with SNLD HQ Office and is now the Head of the Education and Foreign Affairs Section.
He sometimes served as translator from Shan and/or Burmese to English at meetings with foreign diplomats.
In late 2012, he led a training team from SNLD to Wan Hai and gave training to over 80 youth from 8 townships on the constitution, understanding federalism and ethnic rights.
After lobbying the National Endowment for Democracy when he was in the US, he was able to receive grants from NED for capacity building training for youth. In Feb – March 2013, he trained 30 youth leaders from different parts of northern and central Shan State on constitution, governance systems and democracy and federalism in order to encourage youth to join the SNLD activities across Shan State. He plans to conduct youth outreach activities in Laikha township in late 2013.
Dedicated to activism, he also is a writer who contributes to Hsaipan Magazine (a Shan language magazine). He has written on federalism, education, development and health.
Given his selfless dedication to his community, and his many efforts to empower youth, he is an excellent role model for young Shans.