Thirteen-year-old Nyein Mar’s family lives in a cemetery in Myanmar. Ostricized by society, they have nowhere else to go. Focused on surviving each day, they have no hope for their children’s future.
Though at first the schools wouldn’t allow Nyein Mar to attend, find out how her education is changing her future and giving her hope of breaking free of her family’s poverty.
Nyein Mar reads her lessons out loud. She recites the poem she learned in school, her sweet voice lingering around the graves. It is the unusual sound of the cemetery, filled with wailing cries.
Cemeteries may be unpleasant places, but it is where Nyein Mar’s life is. It is her home. It is her playground too. It is a place where she makes friends. It is her world.
For Nyein Mar, the graves, the cries, the grief, and the sorrow are all too familiar.
Nyein Mar’s family lives in the cemetery in Ka Paing, a small village an hour’s drive from Mandalay, the ancient city in central Myanmar. There are more than 40 households in her community, which people call the “cemetery community.”
Before settling down at the cemetery in Ka Paing, the whole community had to move from one place to another. People discriminated against them when they found out that their forebears were lepers and they earned their livings by begging. As no one accepted them at their villages, they ended up living in the cemetery where there was no one to complain or discriminate against them.
Ka Paing’s cemetery community lives in their little isolated world. Adults earn their living by begging or doing odd jobs. Instead of going to school, children spend their time collecting recyclable materials. With survival most important for them each day, they cannot think about the future of their children.
Though she lives in a very different world from other children, Nyein Mar wants to have a normal life. She wants to go to school like other children. She has become a victim of prejudice since she was young. She does not understand why she cannot live where other children do. She cannot understand why the school that other children attend does not accept her and her friends. She fears she will never escape from the vicious cycle of poverty.
But then World Vision brought hope into Nyein Mar’s life.
Nyein Mar is thrilled that World Vision started a non-formal education program in her community. She is very happy to be learning reading, writing, and doing basic calculation for the first time.
“It was very challenging when we started the non-formal education [NFE] class in this community in 2007,” says Saw Apolo, a World Vision outreach worker. “Parents didn’t realize the value of education. At first, they were quite reluctant to let their children attend NFE class. They asked children to do house chores at the class time. They even took children with them and asked them to beg for money. We did a lot of parental education activities in this community. After three years working with them, they gradually came to realize education can help them breaking through the bonds of poverty. They’ve started encouraging and supporting their children’s education. They even wanted to send their children to school.
“Because of their forefather’s background, the school didn’t want to accept the children at first. World Vision advocated to local authorities and discussed with school teachers so that children can be enrolled into the government school.”
The day that Nyein Mar has been waiting for has finally arrived. The 13-year-old girl is very excited to go to school.
“I am very happy to go to school. I’m really thankful to World Vision for helping us to go to school and providing us school supplies. History is my favorite subject. I want to become a teacher as I want to help all the children to get education,” says Nyein Mar, who is now studying in seventh grade.*
Wearing Thanatkhar, a traditional sunscreen, on her face, Nyein Mar dresses in her school uniform, a white top and a green longyi. Together with her elder brother, who is studying in ninth grade, and her younger brother and younger sister who are studying in primary school, Nyein Mar goes to school. Now more than 30 children in her community are studying at the government school.
“We are very happy to see our children studying at school,” says U Kyaw, a leader of Ka Paing’s community. “They have a brighter future. They’ll no longer suffer discrimination. It’s education which gives them the better life. And we are grateful World Vision for opening our eyes. It’s only World Vision which treats us equally without any discrimination. We really appreciate all the donors for changing our lives and giving a better future for our children.”
Ka Paing cemetery, a place that was once filled with desperation and feelings of hopelessness, is being replaced with the beautiful sweet sound of children reciting their lessons.
“As only education can change our lives, I want all the parents in my community to send their children to school so that we will have a better future,” says Nyein Mar, who is studying her lessons happily.
*Story from 2012.
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