Where there’s a Will there’s a Way
Born into a country that does not know what human rights are, I grew up believing life is a struggle. My first memories are those of battle and worried faces. Army troops abused my parents and forced them into slave labour, which made it impossible for them to provide for our family. Freedom became the theme of their dreams. Of everybody’s dreams, really. Luckily eventually they found the courage to escape when matters became intolerable. Since I was only little at the time it was too dangerous to take me along. And so I was left under the custody of my aunt. There the struggle continued. The struggle to eat, the struggle to live, the struggle to continue believing that one day our country will be free. My name is Nang Mawk, I am 26 years old, and a refugee from Burma.
Determination is what brought me to Thailand three years ago. Determined to take life into my own hands, determined to understand what it means to be free, and determined to educate myself. It was not easy for me to cross into Thailand. The road was difficult, and even when I arrived here I had to deal with the uncertainties of being an illegal immigrant. On top of that I am a woman. Even beyond the Burmese borders I am expected to take on a traditional role. Only through education can I get the opportunity to better position myself and to promote equality for man and women from Burma all around the world.
The authenticity of the culture of Burma is still very much alive. It lives in our language, the richness of our food and the abundance of our nature. Unfortunately, however, these are not the aspects that Burma is known for. For nearly half a century the Burmese have been oppressed by dictatorship.
Through a friend I got in contact with We women foundation (www.wewomenfoundation.org). They gave me a chance at higher education and are guiding me to become an influential member of my community. The University Preparation Program of We women has supported me to get accepted into the University programme of my choice. I am currently in my first year of Master of Education in Educational Administration at the Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok. My aspiration is to improve the education system in Burma and to one day work on a policy level in the government. I want to encourage children to think for themselves, share their opinions, and learn to follow their aspirations. Knowing our younger generation are our country’s future leaders, their perspective should be a brighter one.
Although I am confronted daily with my fears, it is nothing compared to life in Burma. The progression is there. I know my journey will be a tough one, but I am determined. We women foundation is helping me to keep my focus and my faith. I learn new English words every day and my professors and fellow students inspire and encourage me greatly. I feel understood and safe and know that my self-confidence will eventually allow me to become a great public speaker and an effective teacher with good leadership abilities.
In my viewpoint it is not money but education that is the key to a better life. I am aware of the challenge, but I have faith.
I believe that the day will come in which every human being has education opportunities. The only way to create a brighter future is to educate our future leaders: our children. I believe soon they will govern our country with democracy and equal rights. For this reason I am determined to become a leader of educational change. I want to be part of this evolutionary road.
We women foundation is based in Chiang Mai and is dedicated to empowering women from Burma. Three years ago the organisation was founded by Ursula Cats from The Netherlands, who felt inspired to empower the women from Burma. It is an organisation with a personal touch and rapidly growing in ambition. We women foundation supports unrecognised refugee women by making higher education accessible for the future female leaders of Burma. These women need assistance to get accepted into university programmes. Due to the lack of qualitative education in Burma, the academic skills are often insufficient. Once students are selected for a scholarship, We women foundation supports them on their path towards leadership positions through their In-University Coaching and Alumni Programmes. Currently there are 29 students from Burma in the programme. Through the assistance of the volunteers and the determination of the students the first women will successfully graduate this year.
To volunteer or read more about We women foundation please visit www.wewomenfoundation.org
For the protection of the student from Burma, Nang Mawk is a pseudonym.
About author: Nienke Moolenaar can be found at www.boundlesswanderer.com
Photography by Mareike Günsche and Hester de Vries