Empowering Refugee Youth through Social Justice Education

Aug 31, 2020

Based in Chiang Mai Province, northern Thailand, the School for Shan State Nationalities Youth (SSSNY) has been training young Shan ethnic minority youth living along the Thai-Myanmar border for nearly 19 years. SSSNY aim to build the capacity of Shan youth to participate in social justice and political change in Myanmar.

Social Justice Training for youth from Shan State, Myanmar
School for Shan State Nationalities Youth

SSSNY’s successes come out of their two flagship training programs – the Social Justice Education Program (SJEP) and the Community Leadership Development Training (CLDT) program. These two programs have shown to have a positive result through students sharing their knowledge and using their new skills to work with communities and civil society organisations. Evidence shows that SSSNY’s programs also help strengthen connections and networks within communities.

“I am from a fighting area. When I was 3 years old, the army burned down my village. My family escaped to Thailand. My parents don’t have money to send me to a government school so had to study at temple school. I applied to this school. At first, I didn’t know any background about my country. I am proud that I finished this school and went back to my village. I serve my community to open their eyes to know more about their country. I encourage them to study about their country, about why we became migrant workers. I am proud that I can serve the community.”


Creating long-term positive change within communities

To-date, the School has trained more than 700 people through these programs. A recent independent evaluation has determined that both programs are catalysts for broader and longer-term change within the community beyond the initial highly successful learning outcomes.

Significantly, the evaluation observed changes among individuals, local communities and broader society as a result of the programs. These included:

  • Individual outcomes: Empowering young people through enhanced knowledge and skills, understanding and empathy, connections and networks, inspiration and motivation, and education and career opportunities.
  • Community outcomes: Positive outcomes for communities through former students sharing of knowledge and using skills to work with communities and civil society organisations, resulting in enhanced services and practical support, positive attitudinal and behaviour change, and enhanced social capital.
  • Societal outcomes: Enhanced connections and networks within civil society that fostered ethnic cohesion and strengthening of civil society, democracy and peacebuilding.
Building peace and democracy into the future

SSSNY’s success in building peace and democracy and their ongoing relevance to the Burmese refugee community living along the Thai border mean that SSSNY and Union Aid Abroad APHEDA will continue working in solidarity into the future.

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has funded both programs since 2012, with support from the Australian NGO Cooperation Program and Australian Unions.

“Before coming [to SSSNY], I had no idea what was human rights… I learned here there are many people like me, that I am the victim of the human rights abuses… I didn’t know that in Burma… I learned how our history is being manipulated. I learned about human rights, equality, diversity, the beautiful thing of the diversity in Burma. I didn’t know that in Burma.”



The School for Shan State Nationalities Youth (SSSNY) Social Justice Education Program (SJEP) is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

The Global Justice Organisation of the Australian Union Movement

The work of Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA relies on the efforts of thousands of Australian unionists and internationalists who raise funds, volunteer, and take action to build solidarity across borders. 

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