Sometimes leaders are selected; in other cases, leaders are called.
When you feel you are called to do something, it is simply very difficult to turn the other way around, no matter how good that other opportunity is. Michael Suantak felt this calling when he decided to leave a position in an international organization in Yangon. He returned to the hills of Chin State to build a community wireless network as an alternative communication platform, connecting more than 20 jungle villages over the hills in Chin State in Northwestern Myanmar.
Like all of us, life for Michael Suantak is not without ups and downs. “Sometimes I wanted to surrender what I was doing and return to my professional field of Information Technology,” he says. “But I have my own protocol for my life. As a Christian, I always feel that I was chosen by God to serve my community. Whether it is successful or not, I acknowledge that this is what I have to do.”
First Comes Challenges, then Satisfactions
When running a company, CEOs often select and hire the best skilled employees and offer competitive salaries. However, for Michael Suantak, he works within communities with many different kinds of people, all of whom have different needs and attitudes. “At first, I felt pressured when I was openly told by others that my goal of starting a business in the community would not be achieved even before I began,” Michael recalls.
To combat these pressures, he reminds himself that he is spending effort toward improving the community and trying to change the situation. Yet, he knows that even if he can’t change the situation, he can change his attitude or mindset.
“I work for them,” says Michael Suantak, “I work for the betterment of the community, even if they are not very interested sometimes.” When communities or people do not seem interested in his services, he says, “I change my mindset that I am doing research in this community to learn how they respond when I do something for them. In these ways, I can learn from them what they do and do not like.” He sees this way of learning as his life’s university.
He knows that his contributions “may not have immediate results or that those results may not always be what they wish or what [he] desires.” Yet, he has satisfaction from the opportunities he has “to learn from the community by working for them and discovering for himself which services he most enjoys giving to the community.” He is a driven leader who always thinks of ways to give to the community.
Photo: Michael Suantak at his work site in Chin State
Be the First to Do It
While in the villages throughout Chin State, he has noticed that people did not dare to start a business or to be an entrepreneur. “When I give trainings and explain good points of agriculture to the people, they ask me why I don’t start something first. They want me to do it first; then, if they see the achievement from my work, they will take my advice and start something on their own.”
Michael Suantak saw that villages were not communicating and exchanging information with one another and decided to start a business that could connect the communities with one another. “I want to see communication within the community,” he says. “Villages do not contact each other or exchange information. Because of this lack of contact, there are failures in the products they grow.” He has delivered a solution to this need.
There are challenges with implementing modern communication technology in these rural villages where traditional concepts are strong. However, Michael is not discouraged by these challenges and continues to find ways to connect villages to one another through his community wireless network.
Crisis Comes with Opportunity
When crisis situations come, Michael Suantak says, “We should open our mind and find alternative solutions instead of thinking that there can’t be any solutions for the crisis.” He shares, “There is always an opportunity if the person opens his or her mind to see it.”
On DeBoer Fellowship
Michael Suantak is a 2015 DeBoer Fellow and has experienced the very active network of Lifelong Fellows that has continued long after the Fellowship Year is over. He shares, “DeBoer Fellowship is persistent in following up with the Lifelong Fellows and supporting us even after the Fellowship Year. The Lifelong Fellows always find a reason to collaborate with each other. That results in building a talent-network.” He believes that this type of “human bonding creates trust in each other and can build the country stronger together.”
Michael Suantak is a 2015 DeBoer Fellow. He is the founder of ASORCOM (Alternative Solutions for Rural Communities) which builds a community wireless network as an alternative communication platform. This network connects more than 20 jungle villages over the hills in Chin State where there are no proper roads, internet, or mobile coverage. He is CEO at Savory Social Enterprise and one of Myanmar’s digital Tarzans from the jungle of Chin State, located in the northwest of Myanmar.