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One Step for Us, Girls and Women

In Myanmar (Burma) where I was born and raised up, traditional culture supports gender stereotypes and a belief that education is less crucial for girls than for boys, especially in times of hardship. Subsequently, girls often get less education than boys in their adulthood, resulting in a lack of opportunity for gaining well-paid jobs. Girls are instead required to help with farming and house-keeping. In these days of economic hardship, every household member needs to earn an income, so girls are forced to leave the household to find jobs even though they do not have enough skills. Most urban poor women do not know how to find jobs, how to prepare Curriculum Vitae, or how to set up a business. Job opportunities are very scarce and most industries and factories only recruit the young women who have skills, business knowledge, and good health. These girls with no formal education mostly find work in the industries and factories owned by Chinese businesses and government businessmen. These industries cannot offer enough job opportunities to all the unemployed girls and pay wages that are too low to support a family in Rangoon, which has a high cost of living compared to other cities. Food and housing are particularly expensive in Rangoon. Therefore, some girls who cannot earn enough money living Rangoon become sex workers to earn extra income. Most are not fully aware of health risks associated with sex work or ways to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. An increasing number of women are becoming infected with HIV. These female sex workers are spreading the disease because they lack formal employment, as well as sex education and positive living education. There are also many psychological impacts for the women, such as low morale, depression, anxiety, and suicide because of their status within the society. In the strict Burmese Buddhist society, these women are unvalued and looked down on by the society. Even though their families are struggling to survive, they do not want their daughters to become bar girls or sex workers. Therefore, once girls become sex workers they are no longer accepted by the society and cannot find jobs or opportunities to that would allow them to quit their illegal profession. This means that girls and women who want to quit their professions of sex work cannot survive in the formal economy.

Kyauk Tann Township in suburb Yangon is the population of low socio economic status and community of urban slum people. Many of the young girl students who are attending at the Zabu Oak Shaung free nunnery school (My articles about Zabu Oak Shaung's education program can be read on A Remarkable Woman Who Made Her Dreams Do Come True.) are facing a thread for the continuation of their education at every new academic year. Their parents cannot guarantee them to be able to complete a highest decent education: high school graduation or a bachelor degree. Like most the welfare children in the downtown and privileged areas of Yangon, they cannot have a chance to enjoy other co-extracurricular and life skills programs such as computer, internet and language trainings.

By providing vocational and personal development training in their summer holiday to a number of potential young girl students from the Zabu Oak Shaung nunnery school and empowering them to develop their business, entrepreneurial mindset and confidence, the selected girls will be trained sewing and personal development skills at the end of the project. "One Step For Girls" is a vocational and personal development training program in summer holidays for economically vulnerablgirls from the Zabu Oak Shaung, initiated and implemented by Metta Moe Myanmar, the local civil society organization I and my friends founded in May 2009.

As the next phase, we will find a potential market for the garments made by the girls and empower them to set up small business at their home or the nunnery school. The girls, their family, the nunnery school and the community are aimed to benefit from those activities and impact. For a sustainability purpose, these girls must also cascade their knowledge and skills to another group of girls at the next summer holiday. Our Metta Moe team, the nunnery school and the girls themselves must find a potential funding source for the marketing, setting up small businesses and future training delivery phases.

The project idea came from the preliminary discussion with the Myaing Tharyar ward (1) community where the nunnery school is situated and the Zabu Oak Shaung. They will contribute five sewing machines, a space, food in training days and other helps in need. Our Metta Moe will contribute Personal Development Training and Sharing Circle facilitators.

The integration of vocational skills and personal development training is a more powerful approach to empowerment rather than just mediocre economic empowering to girls and women. Ma Hnin Si is the one of the most inspiring women I have ever met in my life. At her young age, her husband then passed away with AIDS and she was also diagnosed with HIV. At that time, she was very vulnerable in terms of health, economic and social aspects. Both her family and parents-in-law did not give her a hand. Instead of that, they neglected and discriminated her. She was really in a deep dark ravine. She was even sent to a mental health hospital as an insane person. When she joined our organization's psychosocial support program two years ago, she was one of the team leaders in her organization. Her leadership and interpersonal skills is far beyond her life and experiences. She was sharing her story as a lesson learning and ideal example to her peers and fellows with a thoughtful and reflective insight. It is remarkable that she is a motivated entrepreneur and business woman throughout her life, both in difficult and trouble-free situations. It is like there is none sort of business she hasn't done, from small restaurant owner and selling flowers at a pagoda to seasonal agriculture business and making and selling garments and hand-made accessories. She can even support her family who once treated her badly. That makes her feel delight, sense of capability and personal confident. Last year, she got married for second time. She loves her new husband so much and feels like he is everything for her. But after few months, she realized the bitterness from that marriage. She found her husband is a bad guy. He abused her both physically and mentally on a daily basis. He is very uncooperative and seriously criticizes and blames whatever she does. He restricts her rights. He makes shameful things in her social life. He meaninglessly and excessively squanders all the money she makes. Every fruitful and peaceful mechanism of her life broke down since then. She has been in severe depression and cannot think of for her current and future.

Action for Public (My article about Action for Public can be read on Action for Public, Action for Women.) is a women empowerment organization founded by a high-visionary young woman who is also a Fulbright MPA scholar. We, both AFP and MMM, believe that multidisciplinary approach is the most effective empowerment evolution for girls and women in vulnerable circumstances. At AFP, the primary program is vocational training and income generation programs. At the same time, Ma Kyi Pyar, the founder and program-director of AFP, organizes occasionally leadership, personal development, problem solving and life skills training programs for her beautiful women. In summer holidays, language teaching, story telling and other fun and co-extracurricular activities are arranged by the support of partnered organizations for effected and infected children of those women. Ma Kyi Pyar keeps her organization's atmosphere in a family setting with good discipline rather than a hierarchical NGO structure. By this way, women feel they are very trustworthy, reliable and supportive each other. She also organizes fun activities such as karaoke and going to pagoda and other fun places for women and she is also an active participant in those leisure activities. By this way, her members feel her genuine support and it is also a role model for humble and charismatic leadership. In collaboration with Metta Moe, AFP has been providing psychosocial support training and service program to its women. Now, Ma Hnin Si is in struggling circumstance but thanks to that awesome program, she is having a helpful support for her mental deterioration. Her counselor genuinely listens and shows empathy to her. She challenges and shapes her thoughts. They together find solutions and develop coping mechanism. Ma Hnin Si feels she is now in the right track to recovery.

If I, Ma Kyi Pyar and Daw Wi Mala Sari who is the principal nun of Zabu Oak Shaung are asked, as a grassroots young woman leader, what motivates us and why we are doing what we are doing, our answers will not be different. "We believe that we, women, can do it." "We believe that Girls effect will change the world." "Some changes cannot wait the regime or policy change, we must create our future." "Traditionally untapped potential of our girls and women must be solution-oriented at our time."

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Comments

Wendyiscalm's picture

Great article

Hi Ishna,

I really enjoyed your comprehensive article. I work in Livingstone Zambia and the problem for women there is the same. I have found that by the time I get them, even 5-7 years old, they have not been academically been paid enough attention to as the boys and it is impossible to catch up because the adults do not have what it takes to help, even the teachers who are poor. We have had brain drain.

But you are so right, the multidisciplinary approach is the way to go. You sound like you are on the right track and that gives me hope for your city and your country.

Keep up the great work.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together),

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Insha Allah's picture

We are together!

Dear sister Wendy,

Thank you so much for your encouraging comment and I am also honoured to hear what you are doing in your community.

For most of the outsiders, the gender equality in Myanmar seems quite fair. But, in reality, our challenges are invisible and more complicated. Although it comes slowly and takes time, I believe change will happen one day because of our voices and actions across the globe.

We are together!

With Love,
Insha@Shwe Wutt Hmon

Shwe Wutt Hmon

Wendyiscalm's picture

Change

Hi Insha,

Yes, you are right to outsiders things look different. That is why I did a 4 year study to understand the citizens of Livingstone Zambia, their traditions, cultures and desires and values before I made a plan. One must respect those things for each culture I believe in order to win cooperation and make change.

It is my impression that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had a warm spot for Myanmar and tried to make progress.

Is that correct from your native impressions?

Also, I heard the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, at his hearing to be sworn in and he was very vocal and spoke often through the hour about women's rights in countries such as yours. I truly believe he has a great knowledge base and sincerely will make a good and sustained effort to help your country and others. That would make such a difference. Let's hope it happens.

In the meantime, keep up the great work,

Ubuntu,

Your friend, Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Insha Allah's picture

reliable outsiders

Dear sister Wendy,

Thank you so much for your question. My country and many young girls and women are inspired by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. All of her meetings with both the President and Aung San Su Kyi are seemed very positive. We were also appreciated her respect in our culture. Her advice and critics to our country sound hopeful.

I am also very hopeful the new Secretary of State. With his strong political experiences, I hope he would also become the master of liaison between the US and needy countries.

Best Regards,
Insha@Shwe Wutt Hmon

Shwe Wutt Hmon

Wendyiscalm's picture

Hi

Hi Insha,

I came away from watching SOS Kerry's interview with the idea that he WILL become the master of liaison between the US and needy countries. I did not even like the man all these years, but I came away hopeful and impressed with his knowledge base and specific concerns for different developing countries and it appears he will work diligently for you. I was actually quite surprised and encouraged. Let's hope.

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

mystika802's picture

Thank you for your article

Thank you for your article and insight. Not only do we need to raise awareness of these issues, but we must offer solutions to build on.
Thank you for sharing

Mistelle

Insha Allah's picture

Solution-oriented

ီDear sister Mistelle,

Thanks for your support. Yes, when we are aware of an issue in our community, the issue becomes visible, people are motivated to find solutions and take actions.

With Love,
Insha Allah@Shwe Wutt Hmon

Shwe Wutt Hmon

Mukut's picture

Great work

Thank you for this brilliant article. As you put it, the vocational training together with personal development training is the path toward real empowerment.

Very well articulated. Wish you more success in your future endeavors.

much love,

Mukut Ray

Insha Allah's picture

Thanks

Dear sister Mukut Ray,

Thank you so much for your encouraging comment. You are very supportive and kind.
Very glad to be friend with you here, in the Pulse Wire community. Our sisterhood!

Best Regards,
Insha Allah@Shwe Wutt Hmon

Shwe Wutt Hmon

amiesissoho's picture

Every step forward is important!

Despite the distance, the beliefs and practices surrounding the lives of girls and women are similar that is why the global outcry and solidarity to fight them are crucial. Do not give up every step forward is important.

Amie

Insha Allah's picture

We are together!

Thanks, sister Amie. Your comment is so encouraging. We are together. We, women, can do it.

With Love,
Insha Allah@Shwe Wutt Hmon

Shwe Wutt Hmon

JaniceW's picture

A thoughtful piece

The world looks on in anticipation to see the impact Aung San Suu Kyi will have as the leader of the democratic opposition and as a newly-elected member of parliament.

Meanwhile, self-reliance groups such as Metta Moe are vital to providing space for poor and marginalized women to grow in confidence and build capacity in areas other than farm labor and the sex trade. As women participate equally in all levels of education, they will gain self-esteem and confidence, make greater contributions to the household income (by undertaking paid employment), play larger roles in family decision-making, and eventually hold positions as leaders in their communities.

I applaud the work you and AFP are doing to help bring about equality between men and women. The programs you provide are crucial to ensuring that women have a hand to shaping Myanmar’s future and ensuring that the benefits of future reform accrue to everyone.
Janice

Insha Allah's picture

grassroots women leaders

Dear Janice,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful and encouraging comments.

Aung San Su Kyi is the inspiring and crucial icon/ key player/ role model and leader for the country. I am one of the young women and activists who adorably admire her. But, at the same time, after living over 20 years under the oppressive military regime and as my country's majority population is in rural areas where the residents are very limited in their education, knowledge and maturity, many people love Aung San Su Kyi but the way they love her is like loving to a white elephant or it's because of she is the daughter of the country's late independent leader General Aung Sann. But, at the same time, when she just says or does something which cannot fulfill directly or right away their needs (that's just an example), they sound they don't like her and express their thanks and admiration to the head of the upper parliament who could make the increase in wages for the civil servants (who is also a former general from the regime :P). I am not blaming anyone. What I want to mean is because of our historically spoiled political culture, many people don't have knowledge and understanding on the reform or development.

I always believe my people are not stupid ones, they are just in need to be motivated, enlightened and empowered. They just need their (local or outsiders) grassroots leaders who are educated, tolerant, visionary and can liaise between them and policy makers.

Best Regards,
Insha Allah@Shwe Wutt Hmon

Shwe Wutt Hmon

JaniceW's picture

I agree

There is hope and optimism for Myanmar because of the dedication of activists such as yourself. Don't ever stop dreaming. Your strength, patience and passion can change the world.

Wendyiscalm's picture

Elephants

I was just looking at the accompanying picture to your article with the kids riding and near the elephant. Are the elephants safe there? In Livingstone Zambia we are all so scared of elephants as they break people in half even. Grab a person in their trunk, swing them back and forth and then throw them. Friends of mine have actually seen people broken in two. Next to the hippos, I think natives are most afraid of the elephants. In America people ride the elephants.

By the way, journalists here on TV were saying that former SOS Hillary Clinton did not have one defining accomplishment during her tenure BUT if they had to pick her biggest accomplishment they all agreed it was developing a relationship with Burma. Let's hope for the best in the future.

Hope you are well and experiencing joy.

Ubuntu,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Insha Allah's picture

Dear sister Wendy, In my

Dear sister Wendy,

In my country too, the conflict between the human beings and the wild is still existed. But not a serious issue so far. Obviously, due to the migration and urbanization, there has been more and more lost of habitats for the wilds. Sometimes, they might come to the villages and made harm and kill to the local villagers. It's so sad for those who are such areas. At the same time, due to the lack of awareness of environmental protection and forced law and regulation, elephants are killed and hunted by the hunters in the jungles. It's also a sad story for the nature and environment. My picture was taken at an elephant camp where elephants are trained and shown to the tourists as a tourism business.

During these days, in my country's newspapers and journals too, the great accomplishments of the SOS Hilary Clinton in her tenure has been widely mentioned especially about the deal between Burma and US.

Best,
Insha Allah@Shwe Wutt Hmon

Shwe Wutt Hmon

Wendyiscalm's picture

A question

My dear friend, Insha,

Hope this finds you well and joyous, It is freezing here.

Thank you for your information. It really means a lot to me because I am trying to learn about your country and to understand your people and your country.

I want to ask you one more question. I know from reading THE LIFE OF PI that tigers will NEVER become your friend or care about you no matter how much you are nice to them or train them. They cannot make a connection. So, my question is, if you train elephants to be "humanized" and to not hurt humans, are they really tame? Or under stress, pressure or fear would they attack? Just curious.

Ubuntu,

Wendy

I like the comments you made to Janice. I LOVE Aung San Su Kyi. I have felt for years that she is a real hero and role model. She is at the top of my list. It sounds like your people are very much like our American people. We want change NOW, fast and if they don't see immediate change they criticize not realizing that it is all a process and there are many many factors to take into consideration that must all line up all at the same time while being in a headwind. I hope they give her a chance and the support it takes for her to give and accomplish her best.

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Insha Allah's picture

Elephants

Dear sister Wendy,

Oh! Are you thinking I train the elephant? No! I just visited that elephant camp as a part of the environmental exchange program in whcih I am a member and I took that picture (my profile picture). The elephants there are already tamed. But I will share my little knowledgea and experience in regards of your curiousity and it may probably answer your question.

I had once visited an elephant camp (not the one in my profile picture) in the jungle where the hunters catch the elephants and train them. They are liscenced hunters and they have to obey rules and regulations by the authority and ministery of Foresty. I talked with hunters and had a chance to see their recent catch elephants in lock. It means these elephants have not been trained yet and they are wild. The hunters told that they had trained many, many wild elephants to be tamed. And they have experienced attacks by their elephants and some of their colleagues are even killed. So, to your question, there is no exact yes or no. It depends.

Best,
Insha@Shwe Wutt Hmon

Shwe Wutt Hmon

Wendyiscalm's picture

Thanks

Thanks for the information, Insha. Very interesting.

No, I did not think you trained the elephants..

Please keep in touch and have a great night or day or whatever it is when you get this.
Ubuntu,

Wendy

Wendy Stebbins
Founder/CEO
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

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