We celebrated our 30th anniversary 2015! In honor of this milestone, we profiled 30 remarkable leaders who have partnered with AJWS to build a better world. These are but a few of the thousands who have raised their voices worldwide with our support, changing the lives of millions for the better.

Khun Khit San

Mobilizing youth to challenge authoritarian rule

Burma

27-year-old activist Khit San is leading his generation to build a more just society in Burma. Photograph by Jonathan Torgovnik
27-year-old activist Khit San is leading his generation to build a more just society in Burma. Photograph by Jonathan Torgovnik

A new generation of activists is determined to lift the shadow of authoritarian rule and violence that has veiled Burma for decades. Ever since a military junta seized control in 1962, the government has attacked ethnic minorities, suppressed dissent and isolated the nation from the rest of the world. These abuses continue today despite some of the steps Burma has taken toward becoming a more open and democratic country.

Twenty-seven-year-old activist Khun Khit San witnessed this violence, persecution and repression as a child in Shan State in eastern Burma. “I grew up very poor,” he said.

“There was lots of fighting in my village. My parents always had to run from the violence. I saw people beaten by soldiers. I felt like, one day, I might be able to change this situation. This is what motivates me.”

Khit San has dedicated his life to promoting peace. As a teenager, he learned English, attended university and won a scholarship to study at the American Center in Rangoon. In 2010, he returned home and co-founded Kaung Rwai Social Action Network (KSAN), which trains Shan State youth like himself to become activists, community leaders and human rights educators.

With an annual budget of just $35,000, KSAN has sparked a growing youth movement that is now achieving impressive results. In 2015, KSAN activists campaigned on behalf of displaced people who had fled fighting between the government and ethnic groups who were vying for control of the area’s natural resources. With KSAN’s support, the youth held community discussions and crafted demands for the safe return of displaced people. These young activists appeared on local and national media to bring this cause to the country’s attention.

KSAN also engages youth to solve pressing local problems related to violence, land rights and the government’s authoritarian control. In just a few years, it has trained young leaders to work in 25 villages. In one area, where the Burmese police had seized land from the communities to build a new police station, more than 100 KSAN youth signed a petition requesting the government in Shan State to intercede. As a result, the authorities ordered the police to release the land—more than 400 acres—back to the villagers.

Khit San knows there is a hard road ahead for Burma to overcome its history of oppression and become a democracy that respects the rights of all of its citizens. But he sees great potential in his generation: “We need a lot of young people to be part of this movement, and AJWS’s support is making that possible.”