Tyneside teenager bestows Freedom of Newcastle on Aung San Suu Kyi

A teenager has capped years of political activism in Burma by meeting resistance leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Declan Stokle with his parents and Aung San Suu Kyi

A teenager has capped years of political activism in Burma by meeting resistance leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Declan Stokle, from Gosforth, Newcastle, met the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi as he travelled along the Thai border during a six-month tour helping orphans and refugees.

While he stayed in Burma’s biggest city, Rangoon, the 18-year-old arranged a meeting with the 66-year-old leader of the country’s National League for Democracy.

Declan – who is in Burma with his parents, Tony, 51, a teacher, and Anne, 50, a nurse, to coach football and give English speaking lessons – presented her with a scroll marking her being awarded the Freedom of Newcastle earlier this year.

Mrs Stokle said: “I explained what the certificate meant, that it was the highest honour the city of Newcastle could give her and that she was now entitled to graze her cows on the Town Moor.

“She said she didn’t have cows but asked if it would it be possible to walk her dog there? It was an incredible experience to meet her. She was so normal, showing that it is ordinary people filled with great courage that can change the world.”

Suu Kyi became a figurehead for the democratic movement after studying at Oxford University and returning to Burma where she was placed under house arrest in July 1989.

For the majority of the last 20 years she has spent her time in some form of detention because of her efforts to bring democracy to military-ruled Burma before being released last year.

Her fight inspired Declan to highlight the plight of those living in Burma when he first visited the country as an eight-year-old.

Since then the student has visited the Burma-Thailand border eight times with his family and has helped run the charity Burmalink which raises thousands of pounds for the oppressed population.

He also spoke on stage with the Pope during the Papal visit to the UK last year and was asked to make a recording of his speech for the BBC World Service.

Speaking of the family’s meeting with Suu Kyi, Mrs Stokle said: “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi wanted more people to get involved – more ‘good’ people and more young people – looking to Declan to inspire young Burmese people.

“She thanked Declan for speaking out in London last year on the occasion of the visit of the Pope.”

She added: “She was very normal after such a long time under house arrest. She talked about her two sons, Kim and Alexander, and her dog and family life in general.

“She was very focused and not distracted at all. She asked what the people of Newcastle are called and on hearing ‘Geordies’, she said ‘The Geordies are a very strong people’.

“We were so proud. However, when asked about football we found out she was a Chelsea supporter, having lived near the ground when she was in London. The only game she has ever seen was Chelsea against Fulham, many years ago.

“We explained that Declan and I were coaching young Burmese children in football and she was pleased saying it was a good game for team building and that the people of Burma needed to work as a team now.”

Earlier this year Declan left St Mary’s Catholic Comprehensive School in Longbenton, North Tyneside, with three As at A-level.

He will take up a place on a medicine course at Newcastle University later this year.

Suu Kyi joins other international humanitarians including Nelson Mandela, Bob Geldof and Andrei Sakharov in receiving the Newcastle’s highest honour.

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