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How Win May is empowering children in Myanmar to write their own life stories

When Win May was a child, she dreamt of becoming a writer. The kind who inspires and sparks people’s imaginations and takes them to worlds they would have never gone on their own.

Today, Win May is still passionate about writing, but you won’t find her life’s work scrawled between sheets of paper. Her impact extends beyond the pages of a book and is making a difference to the lives of children and their communities.

As the Country Director of ChildFund Myanmar – a representative office of ChildFund Australia – she leads a team of dedicated staff to implement projects to help disadvantaged children and young people in Myanmar.

Win May says working with children and youth is critical for sustainable development. “One of my favourite quotes is from Abraham Lincoln – ‘teach the children so it will not be necessary to teach the adults’,” she says.

A chance to combine her passions

Win May has always had a keen interest in tackling the injustices of the world and helping people in need. As a child she wrote poems and short stories about war, the environment and disadvantaged children and families.

If she was not swept up in writing, she was curled up with a book, often losing herself in novels about adventure and mystery. “I loved books and was – and still am – a bookworm,” Win May says. “And with writing, there was just always this desire to be creative.”

Growing up, Win May wrote poems about the injustices of the world. Today, as ChildFund Myanmar’s Country Director, she is helping to improve the lives of disadvantaged children and their families.

Despite her passion for words and storytelling, Win May followed in the footsteps of her father and studied medicine.

She was the odd one out at medical school, she says, finding herself drawn to the area of public health while her fellow peers focused on medicine’s benefits for the individual.

When she graduated, Win May joined the humanitarian medical organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), as the head of one of their paediatric HIV units. She was also called on to provide support to their counselling services for HIV-affected children and their families. It was in this role that Win May found an opportunity to combine her love for writing and dedication to supporting vulnerable children.

“While working in these roles, I noticed that people were aware of the effect of HIV on adults but did not know much about the impact of the disease on children and adolescents,” Win May says. “To promote the voices of these children and young people, and raise awareness about the impact HIV had on them, I wrote a collection of short stories about their experiences with HIV.”

Broadening her reach with ChildFund

Over time Win May’s interest in working with children and young people grew and, in 2012, she joined ChildFund Myanmar. “I wanted to touch people’s lives, broaden my reach and focus on a more holistic approach to helping children,” she says.

“I felt ChildFund Myanmar delivered effective programs and projects for children and youth. When I started with ChildFund, I also found it to be a warm and engaging organisation.”

In addition to working with local partners and the Myanmar government to strengthen child protection systems, a core focus of Win May’s work at ChildFund Myanmar is ensuring vulnerable children have a voice and can access a quality education. She says it is important that schools have sufficient resources, and that teachers deliver child-friendly lessons that engage their students, to help children stay in school, finish their education, and reach their potential.

Win May knows all too well the limits of an education that does not promote and encourage students to express and think for themselves. “I was brought up with rote learning,” she says. “I remember in one English class, we had two topics to choose from in tests. In class, we would learn, word-by-word, a written essay on one of the topics. One time, I decided to write about the topic that we had not practised in class because it was more interesting to me. The next day, I got a real good scolding from my teacher in front of the class because she felt like I wanted to show off by deviating from her instructions.

“It was a traumatic event for me at the time, curbing my creative thinking and creative expression.”

While Win May still loves to write, her main focus is helping children reach their full potential. “I believe that we must invest in our children and young people so that they will become well-rounded active citizens to take care of themselves, their families, their communities and more.”

Fortunately, at home, her parents encouraged Win May and her older brother and sister to respectfully question and discuss issues and ideas with them. “I am grateful to my parents as I had a wonderful childhood,” she says.

In addition to helping vulnerable children access a quality education, ChildFund Myanmar also assists disadvantaged youth with vocational training and learning leadership skills. The young people of Myanmar are the future of the country, says Win May.

While she still loves to write, occasionally penning a poem in her spare time, Win May says her main focus is helping people, particularly children and youth, to gain the knowledge, skills, opportunities and confidence to write their own life stories.

“Our overarching goal at ChildFund Myanmar is to create a positive future for some of Myanmar’s most vulnerable children and youth,” she says.

“I believe that we must invest in our children and young people so that they will become well-rounded active citizens to take care of themselves, their families, their communities and more.”

 

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