Ma Nwe has a big smile as she admires her new sewing machine. It’s a fine-looking Singer with a shiny gold and black body.
For the 20-year-old dressmaking student (pictured above) the machine represents a new beginning. For the first time in a long time the future looks good. Really good.
A new life, and a new home for her mum and sisters, Ma Nwe imagines. And, one day, a tailor shop for herself.
How different things are now, compared to just a few months ago when she was working seven days a week at a manufacturing factory, checking the quality of drinking flasks, day in, day out.
It had been her job for the past seven years, since she was 13 years old.
At the age of nine, Ma Nwe dropped out of school to help look after her two younger sisters so her parents could go to work. When their father died she was forced to go to work to make up for the family’s loss of income.
She worked 70-hour weeks, earning an equivalent of about US$60, at the manufacturing factory, and only had one day off a month. All her earnings went to her mother to keep the family afloat.
“If I continued working there, I think nothing would have changed in my life because my earnings were just spent on food,” Ma Nwe says.
Seventeen-year-old Khied (pictured above) remembers the haunting sound of people crying in pain after a devastating flood destroyed her village this year.
The teen from Attapeu Province, in southern Laos, was getting ready for bed when everything suddenly turned dark and water came gushing into the house.
“I heard a sound like wind and the power in the whole village went off,” Khied says. “I woke my younger brother and sister up and prepared to leave.”
For Khied, the flood – which resulted after the collapse of a dam in Attapeu in July 2018 – was the “most terrible nightmare imaginable”.
After their home was destroyed, she remembers being dragged out with her brother and sister by the force of the water, to the forest.
It was five days before they saw their parents again.
“During the flood, I told my sister and brother to hold onto a tree so we would not float away,” Khied recalls. “There was so much debris like roofs, and logs and rocks that hit us.
“I had to stay alert and take care of my brother and sister so they wouldn’t be scared.”
The siblings ended up on a mountain in the forest, where they stayed overnight.
The next day, Khied saw the extent of the devastation. Debris was floating everywhere and there wasn’t a house in sight.
“I could only hear the sounds of people, injured and crying,” she says.
“I tried looking for my parents and calling out for them, but I didn’t see them anywhere.”