I am Eh Pho. I was born in Karen State in Burma. There has been ongoing civil war and conflict in my country for over 60 years. When I was born there was a lot of fighting and violent ethnic conflict in Karen State. The fighting came closer and closer to our village, so finally my family decided (along with many other Karen people) to flee to Thailand. Me and my two sisters and three brothers and my parents fled and settled near the Thai-Burma border. At this time I was 4 years old.
My parents knew that it was unsafe for our family to stay where we were from. We had to move to another village first and then the community set up a camp near the border area. There was no chance for me and my siblings to get an education in Burma, so we went to school across the border, in Thailand.
Growing up and going to school in Thailand as Karen Burmese was hard for me sometimes. A lot of the times we are seen as second-class citizens and we have to work much harder to prove ourselves. I was very focused on getting good grades and doing really well in school to prove I was good enough. If I did good in school and got good grades, no one would be able to pick on me or look down on me. I didn’t like missing school. I got a little annoyed when my parents asked me to help them with their work, because that meant I had to miss days at school. At that time, my parents worked together with the community to help refugees and other Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), providing them with medical help and food security.
I just wanted to do well in school and I had no interest in doing what my parents do, especially with medical health related work. But one time, a medical training team from Partners came to us to work with my mother and the refugees and IDPs nearby. I was so surprised by how these people cared for the Karen people. They wanted to help us. They cared more about helping them than the refugees did themselves. Because I saw how much they cared for us, I wanted to help and give a better future to my people, who have no hope. I knew that it was important to bring hope to my people by providing them the opportunity to get an education.
Children who are able to attend school in Karen state, Burma, preparing for lessons and exams is difficult. It gets dark by six pm every evening. From then on candles are the only source of light. These candle are expensive, and the weak light and soot they produce can be harmful to health. As well as this, teachers are not able to plan the following day’s teaching the evening before, which affects the quality of teaching. These problems contribute to the low percentage of children that graduate from school. The benefits from having electricity at schools goes beyond just lighting to study by at night. It provides a safe environment for community meetings, allows for night classes for adults who have to work during the day, and enables modern teaching technologies to enter the classroom.
My vision is for children all over Burma to have the same opportunities as other children; to have the freedom and opportunity to attend school and be a part of building up their own country.
I had this opportunity – I attended high school and got a university education. This has helped me a lot. It made me realize that I have choices for the future. I want to be able to share this with people in Burma. So that they too can see that there is hope for the future, for consolidation and peace in Burma and for the end of conflict and violence.
I believe education is one way for Burma to be able to have peace in the future. I am working with Karen Education Department and Partners Relief and Development; helping thousands of children to get excited about education and giving them possibilities to change their own situation and realize that they have value. This gives me hope for the future of my country and my people.
-Eh Pho, August 21, 2016