A Passion for Human Rights

By Amanda Wilk '15

Hnin Su Mon may be humble and soft-spoken, but she has had a profound impact in the realm of global health.

She has come to Lehigh to pursue her master’s degree in sociology after receiving a Fulbright Scholarship for international education. She is originally from Loikaw, a town in the eastern part of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Hnin Su MonFor as long as she can remember, Hnin Su has possessed a passion for health services. However, after graduating from the University of Nursing in Yangon, Myanmar, she decided that she would rather use her knowledge to benefit a larger and more disadvantaged group of people.

“I didn’t just want to work as a nurse,” she says. “I wanted to use my education more for the poor. In the private hospitals, they only provide services for privileged people of a higher economic class.”

Hnin Su decided to take English classes for health care professionals at the American Center in Yangon for six months in 2006. At the center, Hnin Su’s professors taught her not only English, but also the concept of human rights. Human rights are a sensitive subject in Myanmar, especially during that time, due to the nation’s occupying military regime. Her experience at the American Center inspired her to become involved in health issues on a global level. 

She has worked for various international NGOs and United Nations-affiliated organizations on child-trafficking issues and HIV and drug counseling services for marginalized groups.

Hnin Su worked for Médecins Du Monde, a French NGO, in Myanmar from 2006 to 2011. The main goal of the organization is to provide HIV care, including prevention, medical and psychological services. She provided confidential counseling to sex workers, homosexuals and drug users.

In 2009, Hnin Su spent three months in Chiang Mai, Thailand, interning at Mplus+ and Empower Foundation. At these organizations, she participated in educational and entertainment outreach activities for male and female sex workers.

More recently, Hnin Su has worked with both UNICEF and the United Nations Office for Project Services, managing the implementation of their international communication strategies.

Hnin Su first heard about Fulbright opportunities through the American Center as well. She met with a recruiter and thought that the Fulbright U.S. Student Program was very impressive. She submitted her application in May 2013 to study sociology at Lehigh.

“I actually chose Lehigh because of course descriptions on the website,” she said. “It was really great. There was no reason to apply other places.”

She said, “It’s funny because the pronunciation of ‘Lehigh’ in my language is considered rude!”

Hnin Su’s research is focusing on the media’s influence on ethnic and religious conflict. She said her courses and professors have been very informative so far, and she is deeply interested in the field of sociology. She finds it exciting to talk about human rights and the Universal Declaration of Rights and says it gives her insight to become a social worker. 

Hnin Su is a member of Lehigh’s new UNICEF Club, which was recently officially recognized by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Through the club, Hnin Su volunteered at a local elementary school and played with its students in September. She is excited to continue her involvement with the club throughout the year.

She enjoys the atmosphere of Lehigh because it reminds her of her parent’s village.

“I like the weather,” she said. “I’m excited about the first snow, but my friends have been warning me about the cold. I’ve never lived under 60 degrees Fahrenheit!”