CARRBORO — Taliana Tudryn came back from Myanmar with new ideas for helping women – and men – stay strong in a world that’s not always fair.
The Carrboro High School junior was one of six young women chosen last year to be an ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative delegate to The Women’s Forum Myanmar 2013: Women in a Fast-Opening Society. The 10-day trip to the Southeast Asian nation included a tour of the countryside and stops along the way where people are trying to make a difference.
“What matters is finding what you love and helping people around you,” Tudryn said.
The initiative, a partnership between ANN Inc., the parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT, and Vital Voices Global Partnership, is part of the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action. It offers leadership skills and mentoring to 50 young women each year, who also attend the spring Vital Voices Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.
In Myanmar, Tudryn learned about women’s equality and social justice issues from influential female leaders, such as Myanmar opposition leader and human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi and Melanne Verveer, executive director for the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the former chief of staff to first lady Hillary Clinton during the Clinton administration.
At 17, Tudryn is passionate about preventing gender violence and discrimination. She knows firsthand how comments made in passing at school about how someone is dressed can sting, she said.
Her friends have faced even tougher situations involving dating violence, rape and the isolation and blame that survivors experience.
“I want girls to know when they are being treated unfairly by both girls and boys, and for boys to become educated on the idea that being a ‘real man’ doesn't mean mistreating and demeaning women,” she said.
Tudryn already created a bullying prevention program at CHS, and in college – maybe George Washington University – she plans to focus on women’s studies and political science or journalism, she said.
Tudryn’s mother Barbie Garayua-Tudryn, is a counselor at Frank Porter Graham; her father Jason Tudryn is Carrboro’s football coach. Tudryn is working with him to get the team involved in changing attitudes.
The Myanmar conference helped refine her plans for a new project, a coed gender issues group. Male students will play an important role in changing attitudes and in addressing male gender issues, she said. Without them, the project has the attention of only half the population, she said.
The group also will reach out to Karen students at CHS, she said. The Karen – one of 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar – has been battling government repression for decades. Local agencies estimate there could be 800 to 1,000 refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma) in Orange County.
In Myanmar, Tudryn said she learned equality doesn’t happen because you elect a new government. The nation is emerging from nearly 50 years of military rule and still has more than half a million refugees in surrounding countries and the United States. The military maintains a strong role, but the government has sought cease-fire deals with the rebel groups.
Tudryn said Myanmar’s “most touching and inspiring” young female activists are overcoming huge obstacles to improve their country and change its culture. People like Soho designer Mo Hom, who built a New York fashion house while dreaming of how she could bring jobs to her native Myanmar.
In 2012, Hom launched a new, made-in-Myanmar women’s wear brand. Her family has contributed in other ways, too, such as building schools. The story of how she left New York’s glitz to help her people was fascinating, Tudryn said.
“She was born with a lot of opportunities and advantages many women didn’t have,” she said.
Tudryn’s group also spent four days in rural Shan State, where they visited a new hospitality training center and stayed at the founder’s nearby resort. Outside the gates, villagers lived in dire poverty, relying on subsistence farming. Pigs and barefoot children run in the streets, she said.
One 17-year-old student said she treks 45 minutes each day from her village to catch a 30-minute boat ride to the school. Tourism is becoming a big business in Myanmar, and the students are willing to make sacrifices to get better-paying hospitality jobs, Tudryn said.
The people also are passionate about making their country better, she said. It was a different attitude than the complaints and cynicism that have become common in the United States, she said.
“True patriotism is really loving your country. You want to help it. You want to make it better,” Tudryn said. “I want to see that in my country.”