#16Days: Sumon is Creating New Opportunities for Burmese Girls

Illustration by Jason Drakeford

The office of the Burmese Migrant Teachers’ Association sits in a one-story house on a small road outside of Mae Sot, Thailand right near the Burma border. At the back of the one room office is Sumon Swe, a soft spoken pioneer who is teaching parents about the impact that physical and emotional abuse has on girls.

As a student in Burma, Sumon watched her female classmates drop out one by one. As they grew older, they began to leave school and did not come back. The girls who did remain were overlooked by teachers until they too eventually left to work in the fields or factories.

Gender-based violence in the household is the first barrier to higher education for many girls.

They often have higher school drop-out rates, end up in low skill and low paying jobs, and start families much earlier than their peers. It’s estimated that a staggering 1 in 7 women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime.

Sumon was fortunate. Her mother, a struggling migrant worker, always told her daughter that education was the way to a better life. Unlike her childhood girlfriends, Sumon finished high school. She then received a college scholarship, earning a Bachelor of Arts in both Education and Psychology. She is determined that other girls have the opportunity and support to do the same.

Located near the border with Myanmar, Mae Sot, Thailand is home to many Burmese like Sumon. / Axel Drainville

After graduating, Sumon went to work as a teacher in one of the USAID-supported community learning centers. She made a point to engage students equally, and carefully monitored the well-being, motivation, and attendance of her female students.

When two teenage girls in her class were under pressure from their families to leave school, Sumon spoke with the girls and their families and reached an arrangement that would enable them to stay in school. They both graduated and joined her as teachers.

From modest beginnings, Sumon now works at the Burmese Migrant Teachers’ Association. Her impact has grown as she aims to help thousands. By addressing gender-based violence in the household, she and her team hope to see more and more young women finishing high school and build bright futures.

Learn More: https://www.usaid.gov/16-days

This post is part of USAID’s 16 Days storytelling series. Please check back tomorrow for the next installment.

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