The child’s life, hopeless in the future

February 18, 2010

WCRP: Early in the morning I was awoken by the chickens beautiful singing. I opened my eyes and looked around my room. Through the window I could see the mist falling to the earth in small droplets and my neighbors cooking rice or praying to the monks.

I stood up and headed to the bathroom for a shower. After, I met a friend who was accompanying me to Bleh-donephai, a resettlement site near the Thai-Burma border. My friend was wearing two jackets to protect her from the cold, but she said she could still feel the cool air through her layers.

I felt the air and tried to imagine how people without warm clothes were able to survive. My friend and I chatted as we waited for the car to pick us for our trip. I could not see clearly down the road because of the mist.

The journey took a couple of hours and our first stop was in a small Karen village in Huay malia. I noticed that most of the houses were made of wood and bamboo. Near each house was a small patch of vegetables where Roselle and sweet potato plants were growing. We looked around the village for an hour or so and then continued our trip.

Half an hour later we arrived at the small Mon village of Bleh-donephai. The 100 or so houses in the village are in a New Mon State Party (NMSP) controlled area. The houses were built in the same style as the previous village only with bamboo and thatch grass instead.

As I walked through the village I noticed that their drinking water came from two rivers that flowed through the middle and end of the town. A wooden bridge spans across the middle river, connecting either side of town and mountains encompass the landscape.

The villagers’ main sources of income are rice cultivation along the hillside and hunting. Most villagers hunt boars, frogs, rats, deer, and monkeys.

Jonda Non, a 15-year-old Mon girl, lives in Bleh-donephai. She shares a small hut with her mother, 2 sisters (3-months-old and 6-years-old) and her 9-year-old brother. Her father is a hunter and normally sleeps in the forest.

Sadly, Jonda Non has never tasted meat and her father’s inconsistent hunting is barely enough to support the family. “When I was 5-years-old, my father fell and rolled down a mountain. He broke his leg and he could not work [hunt] for a while. My family decided to sell our property to find another job in a different village. We walked for three days to get to this new village Bleh-donephai and decided to live here.

I want to go back to my old village to see my relatives, but we have no money or time to visit them,” said Jonda Non.

Jonda Non’s hut is at the end of the village near the river. Large grass leaves cover the roof of her small abode while the floor and structure are made of bamboo, there are no doors. Jonda Non and her family moved into the one room hut a couple of months ago after another family had abandoned it.

As she invited my friend and I inside I noticed pots and blankets divided the hut into cooking and sleeping areas. In the sleeping area there was one blanket, two pillows and a small box. The kitchen consisted of two pots -one for washing, one for cleaning- and a water bucket. I noticed several ants floating in the washing pot.

As I interviewed Jonda Non, her 3-month-old baby sister cried in her arms. Their mother had not yet returned from work and there was no food in the house to eat. In hopes of cooing the baby, Jonda Non sent her 6-year-old sister to borrow sugar from the local shop, but 10 minutes later the child returned empty handed; the shop owner had refused to give her the sugar on credit.

Jonda Non filled a bottle with warm water and nursed the baby anyway.  As the baby fed, Jonda Non explained to me how she tries to balance school and family responsibilities.

“I am in 3rd standard at Bleh-donephai Mon National Elementary School. I want to continue my education till I graduate, but my family is so poor, I always have to miss school to help earn money for food. Often, I have to go to the forest with my mother during school to pick and sell grass leaves so we can buy food. Before I go to school, I have to cook, help with my sisters and wash clothes.

I’m always late to school because I have to do all of the housework. Sometime my teacher beats me with a small bamboo rod because of my constant tardiness.” Said Jonda Non. Normally students in 3rd standard are 8-years-old, but in Bleh-donephai most children have to work, help their family and attend school. Because of these other obligations, students, like Jonda Non, often fall behind in their studies and find it difficult to consistently attend school and keep up with their peer group.

Bleh-donephai’s elementary school is in the middle of the village and is surrounded by trees and a playground. On Mondays and Fridays all students and teachers wear Mon ethnic clothes to school.

Jonda Non cannot afford nor has ever owned Mon clothes. Consequently every Monday and Friday the students tease her, “don’t sit with us, you are so dirty. If you want to sit with us, you should wear Mon clothes like us.” She tells them, “I don’t’ have any Mon clothes to wear,” but they continue the harassment every week. She explained to me, “I have never asked my mother to buy Mon clothes for me. I know she has no extra money.”

When Jonda Non was in 2nd standard she was awarded a Burmese sarong for being the top student in her class. Unfortunately at that time, her family had no money for food and both her parents were sick. Though she adored the sarong, she secretly sold it to buy food for her family.

Jonda will finish 3rd standard this March and the school in Bleh-donephai only offers classes up to 4th standard. The middle school is in a neighboring village a half hour’s walk away. “I am not sure what to do about the up coming year. I have to choose between continuing my education and helping my family. I cannot do both, and I am worried about my future. Should I continue to help my family or my schooling?” said Jonda Non as she tried to hide her tears from her mother.

“I feel so bad for my child. I want her to study like other children. Now my children have no chance to study and they have to work like adults. They do not have enough food like other children because I cannot properly support them,” said Jonda Non mother.

We finished talking around 4:00pm and as my friend I headed to the car the sun was setting into the mountains. When I arrived home, I turned on the lights and ate dinner with my friend. Before I fell asleep, I remembered what Jonda Non said “I would like to be a doctor because I want to treat poor people in villages that do not have health care. I think my dream will never come true because of my family’s financial situation.”

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