This is what it is like to live with a disability when you’re displaced

UN Refugee Agency
Dec 2 · 4 min read

Bawk Ra from Myanmar lost the ability to walk when she was five. Then she lost her home. With a smartphone, some training and help from her family, she captured her life on camera.

Bawk Ra’s family helped her to take these photos from the camp where they live in Bhamo, Myanmar. ©Bawk Ra

When I was five years old, I had a serious stomach infection. There weren’t any medical facilities in our village. There was only one man who knew how to administer injections.

Bawk Ra’s family and friends helped her to take these photographs using a smartphone. ©Bawk Ra

He injected my both hips. After a week, I could not feel my left leg anymore. The next day it was the other leg.

I haven’t been able to walk ever since.

Bawk Ra’s sister often carries her around the camp in poor weather. ©Bawk Ra

I was never able to go to school but my mother taught me how to read and write in Kachin, and I had many friends.

Bawk Ra spends a lot of time reading and writing at home. ©Bawk Ra

In 2011, our village was attacked when a ceasefire broke down. My parents were farming in the hills and my younger brothers were at school. They fled with their teachers, leaving me all alone.

Bawk Ra helps her family with childcare and domestic chores. ©Bawk Ra

I wept and prayed for a whole day. Finally, one of my uncles came to fetch me and carried me on his back.

I have been living in this camp in Bhamo in northern Myanmar for the last seven years. I cannot move much because someone has to always carry me.

She earns a small income by braiding colored strings for traditional sword scabbards. ©Bawk Ra

I miss harvest time and Thanksgiving. I still remember the scent of the curries that were prepared at church on these special occasions.

I try my best to help my parents as much as I can. I earn a bit by braiding colored strings for traditional sword scabbards.

Bawk Ra spends a lot of time taking care of children in the camp. Here, she plays with her neighbour’s son. ©Bawk Ra

I don’t want to get married. I am afraid that my husband would abandon me one day because of my disability.

I wish someone could understand my worries.

Bawk Ra cares for a young neighbour who lives with polio. ©Bawk Ra

But my life changed recently, thanks to UNHCR and its partners.

After Bawk Ra took part in the photography course, UNHCR was able to identify that she was in need of a wheelchair. ©Bawk Ra

I got a wheelchair! I was able to go downtown for the first time.

Bawk Ra and her sister visit the river near Bhamo for the first time. ©Bawk Ra

I ate ice cream. I also went shopping. My sister bought me a new denim jacket.

Shopping at a local market after receiving the wheelchair. ©Bawk Ra

This is wonderful. But I still worry about my future.

©Bawk Ra

Who will take care of me when I am older?


As a result of ongoing conflict in Myanmar’s Kachin State, more than 107,000 people live in camps for the internally displaced. Many camps have few livelihood opportunities and limited access to health care and education.

This photography project, run by UNHCR and Yangon Photo Festival, gives people like Bawk Ra the skills to share their own stories. Bawk Ra has since won an award for these photos – and a brand new Canon camera.

UN Refugee Agency

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The official account of UNHCR. Follow us as we provide vital aid and protection to the forcibly displaced around the world.

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