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WASHINGTON -- When Burma's Zin Mar Aung was placed in solitary confinement for trying to organize students in 1999, Bill Clinton was president of the United States.
When she was released, Barack Obama was in the Oval Office.
Zin Mar Aung says she had never heard of George W. Bush or his wife, Laura, who used her own bully pulpit to push for liberation of Burma's most famous political prisoner, democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, then under house arrest.
Suu Kyi is well-known to many now because of the largely unacknowledged work of the Bushes, as well as Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Since her release, Suu Kyi has risen to public office, accepted her Nobel Peace Prize and been the subject of a movie ("The Lady").
Less well-known are four rising female leaders with whom I met, including Zin Mar Aung, who are visiting the U.S. this month for leadership training. Their delegation is sponsored by Goldman Sachs' "10,000 Women" program, in partnership with the George W. Bush Institute, the McCain Institute and the Meridian International Center.
What does all this mean?
Start here: Imagine living under a military dictatorship where free speech is punishable by incarceration, torture or worse. Imagine sitting in an 8-by-8-foot cell alone for 11 years with nothing but a small water jug, a "sink" for waste, and a 15-minute daily break for a cold bath in a communal tub. Throw in a lack of any amenities (shoes) or even necessities, such as sanitary napkins.
This was Zin Mar Aung's life for 11 years. How did she hang on to her sanity, I asked? She says she accepted that her existence consisted of those 64 square feet and wishing otherwise would do her no good. Meditate on that for a few seconds, while keeping in mind that her crime was publicly reading and distributing a collection of revolutionary poems she and her fellow students had written. Zin Mar Aung says she focused on those poems to get her through more than 4,000 days.
Then one day, she was free.
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