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The difficult choices for children in Myanmar

Eight-year-old Khet Khet is the youngest of three girls. Her eldest sister, Ma Nwe, was the same age when she had to make a very difficult choice: she and her younger siblings could go hungry, or she could drop out of school to care for them so both of her parents could work.

With Ma Nwe helping at home and looking after her siblings, the family were able to manage financially for a few years. But then tragedy struck – the girls’ father passed away.

Khet Khet was heartbroken, but Ma Nwe was not only devastated to lose a parent, but terrified at what the future might hold. She knew it would be impossible for them to survive on a single income. So at just 13 years old, Ma Nwe found a job in a factory manufacturing drinking flasks, and has worked there ever since. Today, she is almost 18, and works 70 hours a week, with just one day off per month.

Ma Nwe says: “When I had to leave school, I was still young. I didn’t feel much. But now when I see my sister go to school, I feel sorry. If I had stayed at school longer, I could get a better job.”

 

Ma Nwe works 70 hours a week, with just one day off per month – so she can support her family.

Among low income families in Myanmar, first-born children must often leave school early to supplement the household income. With low levels of education and few marketable skills, their employment options are limited and come with little pay – many children in this situation will become domestic helpers, labourers or factory workers. They will sacrifice their childhood to support their family.

Ma Nwe’s mother, Daw Cho, also left school when she was just eight years old. She now works as a labourer – lugging bricks and heavy stones all day. It is backbreaking, exhausting work.

Home for the family is a makeshift hut on a rubbish dump. There is no toilet or electricity, and they are surrounded by garbage. Disease is at their doorstep. And because they do not own the land, the threat of eviction is never far away; the family has already been forced to move many times.

Daw Cho lives with her three daughters in a makeshift hut on a rubbish dump.

“We are not doing well. We have to struggle for food. We are worried. We feel sad a lot. I wanted my children to be educated,” says Daw Cho.

Khet Khet dreams of becoming a teacher. She wants to help others, gain financial independence, and ease the burden on her family. But she knows this will only be possible if she can complete her education.

“If my mother is not able to work and we have no money, I am worried I won’t be able to go to school. If I cannot go to school, I cannot be a teacher. I will have to be a servant and do what others ask of me,” says Khet Khet.

But for now, Khet Khet is lucky. She lives near a non-state school which provides free lessons to vulnerable children. However, the classrooms at her school are small, loud and overcrowded. Khet Khet’s class is taught at one end of the room, while another teacher instructs a different grade at the other end. It can be hard for students to hear properly and concentrate. And many teachers do not have formal qualifications.

At ChildFund, we believe that every child should be able to say: “I am educated”. So in Myanmar, we are training teachers to deliver quality lessons to young minds, funding school lunches so children do not sit in class hungry, and building more classrooms and improving learning environments.

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