Thirty-six participants from 11 countries joined the 95th Global Voyage from Yokohama to Yangon to be students on the Global University Special Programme, a short-term educational programme conducted in English. The programme focused on issues in the Asia-Pacific region through the lens of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations: "Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels." Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region are struggling with prolonged armed conflict and violence, and people suffer as a result of weak institutions and no access to justice. The programme drew on case studies from the region as part of its overall curriculum with the hope that the students will one day become leaders who can solve problems like these with empathy and passion.
Students on the programme attended exposure programmes in Japan, China, Singapore, and Myanmar. The first of these explored the poverty problem in Japan through a visit to a homeless area in Tokyo. At port in Xiamen, China, the students taught elementary school students about the importance of environmental regulations and then visited an NGO to plant mangrove trees while learning about the environmental harm caused by non-sustainable coastal development projects and city planning. The programme in Singapore was a visit to a migrant worker organization where students learned about the struggles Bangladeshi construction workers face regarding wages and safety. Finally, in Yangon, Myanmar, the students visited three NGOs fighting for civilian democracy, prisoners' rights, and the elimination of poverty and unjust living conditions in the country.
The students attended programme workshops and seminars given by experts in their field while on the ship, and were also enthusiastically involved in activities outside of the programme. Students received lectures about humanitarian assistance and development efforts from Oshidari Kenro, former United Nations World Food Programme Regional Director for Asia, and about the SDGs from Lee Kwan Boon, Vice President of the United Nations Association of Singapore. Before going to Myanmar, the students learned about the country's struggles for a civilian democracy and the continuing violence among ethnic groups from Khin Ohmar, a Burmese democracy activist who played a leading role during the 1988 Uprising and continues her efforts in exile. Kawasaki Akira, a university lecturer and Executive Committee Member of Peace Boat who writes and speaks on nuclear issues, served as coordinator of the programme and also led seminars and workshops for the students.
The students broke into groups to arrange their own seminars, workshops, and donation drives on the ship. One group surveyed participants on gender roles in their home country and made a slide show of each surveyed participant holding a message explaining a way that they defy the gender roles expected of them. They presented the slide show and results of the survey as part of a broader lecture about gender. Other groups did projects about food waste, gave a workshop on intercultural communication, and raised funds for the NGO they planted mangroves with in China. They were able to raise about 20,000 yen, or 200 USD, for the NGO. The students also hosted an event in which they explained the SDGs, offered an easy story to help people remember all 17, and performed an SDG dance.
Mr Kawasaki said that his hope at the outset was for a programme that emphasized practice over theory, where an international group of students could learn from each other as well as the reality on the ground instead of through lectures alone. During one seminar, a Burmese student commented that in his home country he was brought up to hate Muslims, which sent a small ripple of surprise through the class, including to a Muslim student who had become good friends with him. The event ended in a friendly laugh between the two and the other students soon joined in. Another enlightening exchange occurred when a Korean student compared the movement against the military regime in Korea to the one in Myanmar, and how Korea didn't have a public figure like Aung San Suu Kyi. The student asked both Khin Ohmar and NGO members in Myanmar to give their thoughts on the consequences of having such a public figure.