Shing Ha Ling, Myanmar: “Poverty keeps us down”

Shing Ha Ling
NGON LAUNG, 3 December 2013 (IRIN) - Even as a child, Shing Ha Ling, 21, knew that her only way out of poverty would be through education, but she was forced to abandon her studies halfway through secondary school in her home region of Chin State, western Myanmar. Now, with only patchy income to support herself, her husband, and their 18-month-old son in Ngon Laung village, a two-hour motorbike ride across rough terrain from the closest town, Kanpetlet, she faces mounting debt.
“I craved education to avoid poverty. I witnessed how poverty dimmed the spirits of my relatives and neighbours. I didn’t want to experience the same hardship, the same grinding exhaustion and daily hunger. My determination drove me to work tirelessly at school to become a teacher [so I could] earn a salary for my family and give children in our area much-needed education.
“My widowed mother struggled to support me [on what she earned] from growing corn on her slash-and-burn farm. Our village only had a primary school, so I moved to Kanpetlet town for secondary school. Despite a meagre income, my mother managed to scrape together enough cash to support my tuition fees, meals and shelter for five years.
"But after Grade 10, my mother told me she was no longer earning enough to support my education…Without a means to survive, I returned to the farm. It was a hard life, and it got harder.
"In 2008, an influx of rats ate all of our corn. The whole village suffered starvation because of the rats. It was catastrophic. Without food, or money to buy food, our stomachs burned constantly with hunger. Desperate, we borrowed money from money lenders, who charged 10 percent interest per month.
“We are still crippled with the debt we acquired five years ago. We owe 600,000 Kyat [about US$610]. We are not alone - many people in our village carry similar debt burdens.
“Two years ago, in 2011, I married a man my age in our village, and we started a family. I hoped we would be able to lift ourselves out of poverty, but we continue to struggle day-by-day.
My husband earns 2,000 Kyat [nearly $2] per day when he is asked by villagers to cut wood for them. But he cannot find work every day. We also grow corn on the hillside, but the yield is poor. We frequently run out of rice and corn. We skip meals.
“But no matter how hard the reality of our life is, I have hope for my son. I am determined for him to be educated so he does not have to live like this. I want him to break the cycle of poverty.”

Theme(s): Children, Economy, Food Security, Conflict,