“I want to finish school and get a salary so my mother can rest. She is very tired, I don’t want her to be tired any more.”
Yan Min Aung is 18 years old. His father died when he was four years old, leaving his mother, Myint Myint, with three children.
Recently I sat with Myint Myint on the top floor of her small house in Mandalay, Myanmar. If ‘top floor’ evokes images of a two-story condo, reimagine a small wooden hut, with a corrugated roof and ladder leading to a sleeping and working platform. The wooden mezzanine swayed precariously every time we moved, although if it did give way, we would have landed on the soft dirt floor below.
Myint Myint moved to this home 26 years ago, when she married. She gave birth to her three children on the dirt floor, and it was here that her husband passed away suddenly in 2004.
Visibly upset, she recalls standing in the street each day waiting for her husband to come home, unable to come to terms with her loss. With three children to feed, clothe and house, Myint Myint turned to an illegal moneylender and ended up in debt.
Relatives pressured Myint Myint to give her children up for adoption, so they could have an education and be provided for. She had just lost her husband and was being asked to give up her children as well. She refused; a decision that meant estrangement from her wider family. A widow, in growing debt, Myint Myint asked her 13 year old son to quit school and go to work in a sandal factory to support the family. Myint Myint taught herself embroidery and started a small business, creating costume pieces for ceremonies taking place in the local community.
“I was so sad, drowning in debt and then having to ask my son to go to work. He didn’t want to quit school, and every day he would watch the other children walk to school while he went to the factory. He was such a good student, but I could not afford to send all my children.”
Seven days a week, Myint Myint wakes up at 5am to prepare the day’s meals for her family, then she sits and embroiders all day until 5pm when she heads to the local restaurant to wash dishes until 9pm. She embroiders for a few more hours before going to bed in the one room she shares with the three children.
“I have no hobbies, all I do is work as hard as I can for my children’s future, that is all I know.”
One day in 2013, Myint Myint’s daughter met a member of the VisionFund loan committee and heard about education loans. Myint Myint was given her first loan of about US $100 that year and used the loan in its entirety on tuition fees for her two younger children. If she hadn’t had this option, the family would have had to continue borrowing from moneylenders, and their debt cycle would have continued. The children may also have had to leave school early and work, like their elder brother.
Myint Myint has had four more loans, each time spending the money on tuition for her middle daughter, and youngest son. Having quit school at 13, further education isn’t an option for her oldest. His income of less than $8 a day is put towards paying off the education loans for his siblings. Myint Myint glows when she watches her daughter tell me about her dream of becoming an English teacher; she laughs as she describes her youngest son’s plans to support the family after he graduates.
Unable to get a business loan and education loan at the same time, Myint Myint chose the education of her children over being able to invest in her business. She continues working seven days a week. With her youngest child about to start university, she will soon be eligible for a business loan.
‘Will you expand your business then?’ I ask.
‘No,’ she responds. ‘I will help my oldest son to open his own sandal factory. It is his turn now.’
Every spare cent Myint Myint earns is put towards bettering the futures of her children. VisionFund works actively to empower women like Myint Myint in order to improve the livelihood and prospects of children worldwide.