Nor Mai’s family used to live peacefully in their village surrounded by mountains. His father worked on their rice and vegetable plantation until the fighting began.
Four years ago, fighting erupted between the army and an armed ethnic group in his village. The ongoing conflict interrupted the family’s livelihood. Afraid of the troops and the land mines scattered around, Nor Mai’s father, U Nor Aung, 33, dared not to go to his plantation.
At first, U Nor Aung risked going into the forest to look for plant roots and shoots, which the family could eat to survive. However, as the conditions got worse, he stopped going into the forest and started working odd jobs to support the family.
“Sometimes, my children went to bed hungry. I didn’t even have porridge to feed them."
Before the conflict began, “My husband sometimes herded the working elephants that were used to haul logs. With the wages from that work, we enrolled our younger son, Mg Dwella, to the preschool which cost 60,000 ks (about USD $60) and 20 kg of rice for one year school fees,” says Kawn Nan, 36, Nor Mai’s mother. The local preschool is a fee-based school, though primary school is free.
Nor Mai is the fourth among 8 siblings. His younger brother, Mg Dwella is now 5 year old and studying in grade 1. His youngest sisters are 8-month-old twins. Nor Mai, 8, is stuyding in Grade 3.
“We tried to send our children to school as much as we can. We can hardly read, so we want them to be educated,” adds Kawn Nan.
Nor Mai’s father is now working away from the family and sometimes he cannot send money home.
“Sometimes, my children went to bed hungry. I didn’t even have porridge to feed them,” shares Kawn Nan.
“I tried to soothe them and said we would feed them rice and also buy snacks when their father is back. The older children didn’t cry, but the younger ones fell asleep tired from crying and hunger. It was very painful to see them crying for food,” recalls Kawn Nan, with tears swelling up in her eyes.
Kawn Nan is looking after her 8 children while her husband is away for work. She is not able to work right now with 8-month-old twins.
“My husband is working in Shwe Maw (135 miles away from her village). I have heard nothing from him and don’t know how he is doing. I had to pull out my eldest son, Zut Aung, from school to tend his grandpa’s cows and earn money for our family,” Kawn Nan said with regret.
“Sometimes we had to go to school hungry. At lunchtime, other children return home to eat, but for my brother and me we had no rice at home, so we just drank water and played at school,” Nor Mai shares.
Some hope for Nor Mai’s family finally arrived. He heard good news from the school headmistress that there would be a provision of food rations for the students from World Vision, part of relief support during the conflict.
“Some families received a food ration for one student. But our family received rations for my two sons. This support is a great help for my family. I am very thankful that I don’t even know how to express it in words,” Kawn Nan gladly says.
“Now, we can go to school with a full stomach. As we have enough rice at home, we can return home to have lunch and return to school happy."
“Food for Education from World Vision is the first assistance that we’ve received from an international organization. World Vision provides rice for 65 students in my school every month,” says Daw Than, the headmistress at Nor Mai’s school.
“I found that the school enrollment rate has increased after receiving food assistance from World Vision. Before, only 60 students enrolled a year. After the rice supply, in 2014-2015 school year, the enrollment rate increased to 82 and this year (2015-2016 school year), it increased up to 92,” Daw Than adds.
“I also noticed the enrollment of older children in school. For example, the children who could not go to school at 5, are now enrolled in primary school even they are 7 or 8,” Daw Than smiles.
“Parents are becoming more interested in their children’s education. They have also started to participate in the food management committee and also help to regrow big trees, clean the school compound, and participate in the activities to protect children,” Daw Than shares.
“I want to become a doctor and I will cure my siblings who are sick,” Nor Mai ambitiously shares.
The family once in a desperate condition now sees hopes in their lives. With full stomach, children can fully concentrate on their lessons and regularly pass the grades. No doubt, food is the essential thing for children’s survival to grow healthy and be smart citizens.