Alyse Nelson

03.12.11

A Rare Meeting with Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi

Vital Voices co-founder Alyse Nelson shares her surreal trip to Suu Kyi's run-down compound in Burma, and the dissident's message to women.

Vital Voices co-founder Alyse Nelson took a rare and frightening journey into Burma to personally present democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi with a leadership award. Nelson said she had to pose as a tourist to enter the country, and that the oppressive government clearly hadn't Googled her and discovered her human-rights background before granting her a visa—something that's been denied to U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown twice.

Nelson quickly realized she was being followed.

"The scariest moment was handing the piece of paper to the taxi driver of where we were going. We were going to [Suu Kyi's] headquarters. He looked nervous. I thought maybe he wasn't going to take us there, maybe he was going to take us somewhere else," she said. Nelson was surprised when she finally arrived at Suu Kyi's house. "She works out of a hovel, it is a broken-down building, just a shack," she said. "I wouldn't have known it was a place if I didn't see the National League for Democracy sign."

Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the last 22 years under house arrest, was modest when Nelson asked her if it was wearying to be such a role model. 

"I'm not an icon," she said. "I really don't see myself that way. I'm a woman who has a job to do."