Outside of Lashio, in Northern Shan State, are hundreds of villages scattered around the mountainous countryside. Conditions in these rural areas are harsh and dangerous, with ongoing, armed conflict between the government and ethnic groups. Our longtime grantee Meikswe Myanmar supports these villages, primarily through locally organized Community Development Committees, who promote programs that benefit the poorest villagers.
One of these villages, Lawe Ngue, is a community fractured by the fighting that ravages the region; its people fled when it was burned to the ground. They were eventually resettled on a plot of land four hours away, but their main sources of income (fields and livestock) remain in the mountains. To make ends meet, men stay in the mountains during the week and women take care of children and elderly in the village. In the midst of these hardships and challenges, the determination of the people never ceases to amaze us.
Meet Na Lar Bo
Twenty-eight year-old Na Lar Bo is courageous, compassionate and devoted to helping others. With support from Meikswe Myanmar, she has served her village as a grade-school teacher, family planning consultant and community banker. She is an incredible role model for women and girls, and is inspiring others to join her.
“When our children have better education they will have improved health, social skills, and economic prospects.” – Na Lar Bo
For many years, two overworked, unreliable teachers staffed the government-supported primary school of about 100 students. The village couldn’t settle for this, because they knew how valuable education could be for their children. Many people in the village grew up with no access to education, and weren’t going to squander a chance for their children to benefit from quality teaching.
Na Lar Bo volunteered to help, putting her own dream of earning a bachelor’s degree on hold. The village supported her becoming a Community Teacher and they were able to fill the gap until the government school provided additional dependable teachers in 2012. Now that the school is in better shape, she is back to pushing through the status quo, studying to get her bachelor’s degree through distance education while raising her children.
Family Planning Consultant
Without access to birth control, women become burdened with taking care of so many children, and cannot generate enough income for their households. Meikswe Myanmar helps provide reproductive education and access to birth control for women who request it.
Na Lar Bo educates women about the benefits of various methods available, and connects those in need to the program. Educating men about the benefits of birth control has also been a key component of the program’s success, and they have bought in! Helping families regain control over their lives will pay dividends as healthy, cared for, and better-educated children grow up and contribute to the village’s community and economy.
Starting with 10 women, Na Lar Bo and other members pool savings and make low-interest one-year loans to those in need. They are now up to 27 members, and these loans are helping villagers start businesses (one woman buys bulk charcoal and then re-sells it). By working together, they are lifting their entire community up and protecting them from outside, predatory moneylenders.
Despite the chaotic surroundings and lack of infrastructure, Na Lar Bo is confident that communities can pull together to overcome persistent poverty. One great example is the new Early Childcare and Development Center (ECCD), which will solve many pressing problems. Frequently, older children have had to drop out of school to stay home and help care for younger siblings while their parents trek to work in far-away fields. The ECCD will not only care for the youngest children, but will provide an early start to their education. It should come as no surprise that Na Lar Bo will be teaching there!
“We want to be like her… She is a role model as she is our [ethnicity] and also educated. We really respect her.” – Female villager
Her passion is driving the success of these efforts, but Na Lar Bo isn’t content with how things are and wants to train other women to work with her. Too many girls and women have crossed the border into China for work as domestic servants or factory workers, were they are vulnerable to trafficking and forced marriages. Na Lar Bo provides a concrete alternative; they see they have a choice in how to live their lives, and that education is key to a safe and successful future.
She wants to “build another generation of community development workers for this village”, and we are happy to support her amazing efforts through Meikswe Myanmar!
Photo Credits: Marisa Charles, John Lyons