Having just returned from 3+ weeks in Myanmar, I am struck by the numerous instances I witnessed of girls and women empowered by education – all resulting in their increased independence, self-confidence, and self-reliance.
In today’s world of injustices, human rights abuses, and violence, it was uplifting to learn of positive outcomes and the power of the human spirit. During my visits with Educational Empowerment’s (EE) partners, I interviewed numerous women and girls to learn of their life struggles, dreams, and thoughts on education. It was saddening to hear their stories of trauma created by poverty, sexual assault, natural disasters, and violence. Yet, it was extremely inspiring to see how education has helped them to overcome these tragedies and to prevail.
Naw Cynthia, one of EE’s partners, told me of the physical and sexual abuse she endured during her childhood. She always knew that education would be her liberator. Cynthia is now a well-educated and respected proponent of quality education and literacy in Myanmar. She shares her story with adolescent girls to give them a voice and to encourage them to pursue their dreams through education.
Cho Cho, a Burmese friend, told me about the impacts of poverty on her childhood and how she escaped from it. She was taught by her parents that education was the most important way to escape poverty. Every June when school started in Myanmar, her family skipped meals. They only ate broken rice which is cheaper than regular rice or boiled water grass leaves if they couldn’t afford the broken rice. This was their way to save money for school fees for seven children. Cho Cho and her sister only had one pair of shoes between them. Her sister (in the seventh standard and now a doctor) would wear the shoes to school in the evening. Cho Cho (in the fourth standard and now a finance supervisor) would wear the shoes to school in the afternoon. Now, all are seven siblings are successful professionals who work full-time jobs and dedicate their remaining time and income to supporting education for less fortunate Burmese. Like their parents said, they escaped poverty through education. Cho Cho values education because it enabled her to change her whole life. She wishes that all people, especially youth, learn the value of education.
Daw Khin Nwe Oo, a tall, statuesque mom of six, sells sticky rice snacks in her village. As part of our microfinance project, she receives financial and business management training. Quick to smile and laugh, her business does extremely well, enabling her two youngest daughters to remain in school. Education is important to Daw Khin. Because of health problems when she was a child, she wasn’t able to finish primary school. She wants her children to have good jobs, success, and respect. Daw Khin emanates pride in her business accomplishments and enthusiasm to become even more successful.
Girls attending high school in the remote Yay Kyaw Toe village in the southern Delta all survived the devastating destruction of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. They board at the high school and dedicate long days and nights to achieving high scores on their annual exams, learning critical thinking, mastering the English language, and actively practicing their Buddhism. They know that their future dreams and lives outside the Delta depend on education.
All of these girls and women touched my heart. They impressed me with their positive, hopeful attitudes, their resilience in the face of adversity, their confidence, and their self-reliance. They embody the belief that teaching a girl can change the world.
Stay tuned for more news of Naw Cynthia, Cho Cho, Daw Khin, and other amazing Burmese girls and women in my upcoming series in Women Inspire.