“My name, Shwe, means gold in Burmese.
I was born in Mawlamyine State, Myanmar. My family and I moved from Myanmar to Ranong, Thailand. I was too young to know why we left Myanmar, but as I grew older I realized it was to escape our economic hardships. I have lived in Ranong for the last 18 years and have no idea what my home country looks like now. I don’t know what it ever looked like; I don’t have any memories from Mawlamyine, not even memories in the form of stories. I never heard stories from my parents about life back in Burma, because growing up we never had spare time to spend together reminiscing. Everyone in my family would leave for work at dawn and return home at dusk.
There weren’t any learning centers in Ranong for migrants like me, so I would attend classes taught by a migrant woman. Because she was undocumented, she would run out of the classroom and hide when the police would investigate the area. A few years later, some NGOs came to the community and created a legal migrant learning center, where I studied until the 6th grade. Due to financial difficulties in my family, I couldn’t continue my studies. I started working at a plaza selling clothes. I worked there for about two years, then a pharmacy for about four years. Around that time, one of the foreigners I had met, Father John, established the Marist Asia Foundation (MAF) and with the help of one of my teachers from the migrant learning center, Teacher Ronald, I was able to continue my education. During my time at MAF, I took the Australian Catholic University (ACU) entrance exam and was selected to receive free education. This allowed me to receive my diploma.
Now I work as an interpreter for the International Organization for Migration. This has been the best opportunity for me to give back to my own people. When I interpret for Burmese migrants, I feel useful because I can help them voice their difficulties and their experiences, but I also feel hopeless because I can’t do more than interpret. The job of an interpreter isn’t easy, especially when building trust with the person for whom you’re interpreting is a prerequisite. It can be especially challenging for me to earn the trust of Buddhist Burmese migrants while I approach them wearing a hijab. It is up to me to earn their trust and to show them that even though we have some differences, we can coexist.
Although I don’t remember Myanmar, I still consider it home and miss it. However, I am grateful to Thailand for all the opportunities it has given me. I am indebted to the kindness of the Thai people, a people that have never discriminated against me in regard to my religion. Even though everything in Thailand is better compared to Myanmar—water, electricity, living condition, religious tolerance—I still have the dream of returning to Myanmar and helping bring change to my country and my people.”