Mwe Leng, a slender 19 year old with intense sharp eyes, knows that she can't arrive at her dream of becoming a nurse from her home country, Myanmar, also known as Burma. She's a survivor of the long war the Burmese government has been waging on her people, the Shan, in its massive land grab that has been going on for the past fifty years. She's heard all the stories about how democracy is now coming to Burma but to her, it's window dressing. The government is still planting land mines in Shan fields, burning their villages, and killing all who resist. She can't go home yet. She can only go forward.
I met Mwe Leng this past December through a foundation in Chiang Mai called We Women that helps promising young women from Burma get university educations in Thailand and elsewhere. "I want to become a nurse," she said so softly I could barely hear her. "My grandma died because there was no hospital or health care in the village in Burma where she lived." Mwe Leng's grandmother was in her fifties when she died of something people don't generally die from in the West.
What Mwe Leng didn't say, because she didn't have to since it was written all over her face, was "Please help me." So, I did. Tutored her in English, helped her get her American equivalency high school diploma known as the G.E.D., drilled her so she could pass the IELTS English proficiency exam, and assisted her in gaining admission to Chiang Mai University's International College School of Nursing. She's supposed to start in the fall.
Mai bpen rai as the Thais say. No problem. Except for one thing. Her mom fled Burma to live in a refugee camp on the Thai Burmese border where people aren't allowed to work so she has no money. Her dad's whereabouts are unknown. Mwe Leng's in Thailand on an education visa and is prohibited from working. She has no money to pay for this chance at a new life.
Her other options are to go back to Burma where there are few jobs and where she'll be persecuted as an ethnic minority because she is a Shan or to work as an illegal immigrant in Thailand, which all too often for young women means prostitution.
This is an often repeated story all over the world. Regimes persecute their own people, steal their land, squash resistance, and sell their countries to the highest bidders. They have become more sophisticated about their tactics recently and make sure that they placate the West by talking a lot about democracy and reforms. But rest assured, it's still all about the money and business as usual.
You've heard these stories before, right? Sad, but what can you do? You can't save the world.
An acquaintance of mine recently rolled his eyes at me when I told him Mwe Leng's tale. "Connie", he said.
"If it's somehow depressing, I know you're gonna be involved in it. Survivors of war, sex slaves, abandoned dogs, refugees, people who live on garbage dumps--you always have to be rescuing some creature or promoting a cause."
Yeah, yeah. Probably guilty on all counts. Yet, here I live in a part of the world where I can see clearly how small amounts of money directly put to beneficial use on a person's behalf --sans middlemen in the form of charities and ngos who skim administrative costs off donations-- can change the world.
But you can change the world for Mwe Leng. And change the world for you. Because when you help Mwe Leng achieve her goal of becoming a nurse, the world becomes a better place for everyone. The thugs and bullies running her country's government do not win. She does. And so do you.
Here's the pitch: Go direct. Five bucks. Ten bucks. Whatever you can spare. Please make a direct donation for Mwe Leng's education. www.gofundme.com/burmawarchiangmainurse No charities or ngos involved.
You have my promise that I won't make these appeals too often.
I'm hoping I'll win the lottery.
Until then, please help this young woman become a nurse and have a chance at a better life.