In the run-up to the April 1 by-election, Myanmar’s youth are not so confident about their immediate future in the evolving country, as many see a better life for themselves elsewhere.
Naw Say Phaw Waa lives with her parents and her sister in a 90-square-meter apartment in Rangoon. Years ago, her father paid 9,000 US dollars (almost 7,000 euros) for it. By most Burmese standards, it is a spacious and luxurious apartment, though it is covered in a layer of dirt and mold. Naw Say Phaw Waa, or Nilar for short, is 25 years old and studied in Bangkok - a real privilege, as she is aware. Her father is the editor of a newspaper and her family, though not well off, belongs to the country's middle class - a very small group of people; 50 years of suppression did not allow for the formation of a much of a middle class.
Nilar says she could have stayed in Thailand and found a higher paying job than in Myanmar. But she came back for a reason: “I came back because I need to help my people with what I learned. For me, I just want to help my people."
From poor student to poor employee
Nilar works as a freelance journalist. She studied journalism in Bangkok. While it is an exciting time in Rangoon right now, she does not believe she will be able to earn a lot of money. Journalists in Myanmar receive a monthly salary of between 50 to 100 US dollars - that is not enough to live off of.
But at least she was able to complete her degree - a dream for Thit Lwing Aung. He is 21 and in his third semester of economics at Yangon University - a university that is only a fraction of what it used to be after entire faculties were shut down amid student protests in 2007.
He says not much has changed yet, but he has not given up hope. “We are still waiting. At least we can now talk openly among ourselves. There is generally less fear."
But the change is very slow, he says. "A lot is still prohibited. Not long ago, we wanted to hang up a large poster of General Aung San, Myanmar's independence icon and Aung San Suu Kyi's father. But that was prohibited right away."
Another student, Kyaw Thu Han, has big plans. In the hopes of finally being able to earn some money, the 26-year-old wants to go to Singapore to gain experience in his field of studies: engineering - a faculty that was not shut down in 2007.
“I need experience but I cannot get it in this county. So I have to go outside - but for just a few years and I will come back."
Politics - no place for young people
What Han really wants is to become a politician, though. But not now, he says. Later on in life, when he is more experienced. He and many other young people like him are hyped up about their country's new reforms and Aung San Suu Kyi.
“There are many political parties in this country,” Han explains. “The most famous is the NLD (National League for Democracy). Though it is the most famous, it is very weak. Just think of Aung San Suu Kyi. Even before she was released, the NLD was like a dead party, like a zombie party. They only had a name, no admissions or movements. Until the release of Suu Kyi."
The National League for Democracy, might not be a “zombie party,” as Han puts it. But its members are old. What is missing is representation for Han and other young people in Myanmar, Nilar believes.
“I don't know if it's going to be a good country for the younger generations because this is just the first transition. Maybe it will change in 20 or 30 years but I am not so sure it will change within the next five years."
One thing that is missing, according to Nilar, is job prospects. Most people who manage to get out of the country stay out, she said, though she, herself, is an exception.
“80 percent of the people don't come back. Because it is a good life elsewhere. And when you finish university, you get a good salary compared to here.” She says that when she came back to Myanmar, she had no job, but that her father helped her get one. “And even though it is a low salary, it is ok. But I have my parents, so that's the difference."
Back in their spacious albeit moldy apartment, Nilar spins a large cast-iron wheel. The electricity supply in Rangoon is unstable again. In order to run the refrigerator or air conditioner, Nilar has to turn a wheel which looks very similar to a turn wheel on an old submarine door. That generates electricity and keeps up the comfort level in her parents' home.
Author: Udo Schmidt/sb
Editor: Shamil Shams