Education is an investment

Text and photos by Kalika Bro-Jørgensen

Text and photos by Kalika Bro-Jørgensen

I need to support my children, education is an investment. With a grade 10 exam I hope they will easily get a job
Daw Mya Thein Oo, 51

Text and photos by Kalika Bro-Jørgensen

A group of women in remote Lay Pone Kyauk village, Rakhine State, established their own Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) in September 2014. They had no previous experience with such matters when they heard of the concept from Oxfam partner Better Life Organisation during the first phase of the Tat Lan programme. Now, the women hope their practice managing small scale savings and loans can help them access local development funds.

The VSLA had no start-up capital so the set-up was simple: Each of the 13 members would pay 500 Kyat (less than USD 50 cents) per month, and the savings would be used to provide short term, low interest rate loans to members in need. The interest rate of 4% per month is considerably cheaper than the local money lenders, and the loans of around 15,000 Kyat (11 USD) are typically taken to cover daily expenses, mostly in regard to children’s education.

“I need to support my children, education is an investment. With a grade 10 exam I hope they will easily get a job, and not end up as farmers like me. I don’t have too high ambitions for them, I cannot afford to send them to university, so I will be happy if they become teachers,” says Daw Mya Thein Oo, 51, who is responsible for keeping the VSLA accounts.

With an income of around 200,000 Kyat (150 USD) per year from farming three acres of land she is struggling to keep her son and daughter in school. The two children attend 9th and 10th grade in Sane town, since the village school only continues to 7th grade. Although in Myanmar education provided by the Government is in theory free, in reality and after decades of under-investment, parents have high out of pocket costs – which means they have to pay for much of their children’s education from their own pockets. And those costs are steep: tuition fees for both children add up to  50,000 Kyat per month (38 USD).

“We established the VSLA to fund village development. There are so many needs here. Unfortunately, with our limited funds, the loans we provide are not big enough to start any kind of business,” says Daw Mya Thein Oo and explains that the women have agreed that any long-term profit will go towards hiring a teacher to provide tuition for village children.

Two nearby villages have received the governmental Green Emerald Fund and Daw Mya Thein Oo hopes that her village could also one day receive some kind of local development fund.

The women of Lay Pone Kyauk village would like to have the opportunity to grow and diversify their income opportunities by setting up small scale businesses. A financial injection from a local development fund could enable them to do so.

There is a wide range of local development funds available in Myanmar of which local communities are usually unaware. By providing an educational booklet and trainings on local development funds available in Rakhine State, Oxfam and Tat Lan are working to ensure rural communities have the necessary information on how to access, manage and benefit from such funds.