Saturday, 16 August 2008

May Thet, Myanmar, “I feel like crying when I see my friends going to school”

Photo: Lynn Maung/IRIN
May Thet - one of scores of young people badly affected by Cyclone Nargis – has managed to become the family breadwinner by collecting and selling discarded plastic water bottles distributed by the humanitarian community

MAWLAMYINEKYUN (IRIN), Three months after Cyclone Nargis struck, most of the estimated 2.4 million storm-affected people are still struggling to rebuild their lives. May Thet, a teenage girl, has become the chief family breadwinner, collecting empty water bottles to sell in Mawlamyinekyun, one of the hardest-hit areas.

“My job is to collect the empty plastic water bottles that people dump on the ground and sell them to a bottle-buyer in our town… Sometimes, I make about 3,500 kyat [US$3] per day.

“Now I can afford to send my little sister to school, and at the same time provide enough income so my mother has no serious financial worries… My mother has re-opened her road-side noodles shop, but earns just US$1 per day.

“We can't think of rebuilding our house yet, because money for food and for school is a first priority. My mother always told me she wanted me to go to school, but couldn’t afford the school fees for both my sister and me.

“I feel like crying when I see my friends going to school, but, I have to console myself. It's my destiny. There are a lot of us who can’t go to school because we have to help our parents.

“See that student over there? Just look how pleased he is with the books he has received from his teacher. I envy him a lot, but if I ask my mother to send me to school, it would only put her in deeper debt. I just don’t want to talk about it any more. Earning the family income is much more important right now than going to school.

“My mother said no [to my going to Yangon to look for work as a housemaid], because she was afraid I would be sexually assaulted or trafficked into the sex industry. I'm also afraid of being sold or raped. But my mother told me I cannot go there. I have to listen to my mother's orders."


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