Saw Yan Naing, a journalist from Myanmar participating in a six-month fellowship program in the United States, won an award for his contribution to journalism in his native country.
PowerMentor, a non-profit corporation based in San Diego that helps young people develop their leadership skills, presented Saw with a Certificate of Recognition for Courageous Journalism on May 30.
Saw is one of seven international journalists selected for 2015 fellowships funded by The Alfred Friendly Foundation and the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The program run by Alfred Friendly Press Partners supports journalists from developing countries through training and placement in U.S. newsrooms. Saw, a reporter for The Irrawaddy magazine in Thailand and Burma, is interning at the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles for four months.
Kevin LaChapelle, the founder of PowerMentor, said he was introduced to Saw by Eh De Gray, a 21-year-old Burmese from the Karen ethnic minority who lives in San Diego. LaChapelle invited Saw to speak to his organization and accept the award.
“When Eh De Gray introduced me to Saw Yan Naing, our hearts seemed to knit together as he began to share with me his desire to report the truth, and all of the risk that he has endured for his cause,” LaChapelle said. “I also could see the look in De Gray’s eyes when he told me that Saw Yan Naing was his Karen Mentor.”
LaChapelle said after reading Saw’s articles and “hearing his passion, we could not help but want to walk alongside of him as well.”
Saw was born in a remote village in Karen State, eastern Burma, and as a child his family was forced to flee to Thailand, where they lived in refugee camps. With limited opportunities for education, Saw overcame the challenges to become a professional journalist.
At the event, Saw said recent reforms in Burma have not benefited members of ethnic minorities and rural residents who live in poverty and in areas undergoing violent conflict. Activists and journalists still live with unpredictable censorship. He pointed out that ordinary civilians have to struggle to meet their daily needs while businessmen, cronies and foreign companies greatly benefit from economic reforms.
Inside a copy of his book, “Overcoming Adversity,” that he presented to Saw, LaChapelle wrote,“The fact that you risk your life to report the truth in Myanmar … speaks volumes of who you are and the character that drives you.”
Saw plans to establish an ethnic media organization after he returns to Burma in September.