Case study

It takes a village: The community saving scheme transforming children’s lives in Myanmar

It was in 2017, in a small village in the Ayeyarwady region of Myanmar, that 45-year-old Naw Thawri’s life took a terrible turn. Her husband passed away and she found herself alone – a widow with four children and no source of income to support her family.

Article | 01 September 2020
Photo: Mayco Naing/ ILO
Those were dark days, she explains. “We struggled to make a living, and I was left with no choice but to push my children into work to help us survive.”

Her son began as a daily wage worker in a fishery, hauling in fish or prawns from the twisting network of rivers that this delta region is famous for. It was a tiring, unreliable and poorly paid work that cut the boy’s education short, but it seemed like the only option.

Unfortunately, this situation is not unique. More than a million 5- to 17-year-olds are trapped in child labour in Myanmar – one in every 11 children. The problem is particularly pronounced in rural areas like the one Naw Thawri is from.

However, with support from the US Department of Labor, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is working with local partners to change that.

The ILO has set up Village Saving and Loan Associations, which bring together villagers to learn how to work together to invest and save small amounts of money, acquire business skills, and access loans in times of need. The loans are often used to cover school fees, uniforms and stationary, keeping their children in education for longer and enhancing the whole family’s prospects.

In Naw Thawri’s village, members have already increased the association’s initial 1,150 USD investment by 40%. Naw Thawri herself has had a key role to play in this success, becoming the group’s accountant after an ILO training. She has also set up a sewing business to support her family.

This turnaround has meant Naw Thawri no longer feels alone to face life’s challenges. “I now have extended social networks and connect with many different people through the group,” she says.

The project has also had knock-on benefits for her children, who have been able to stay in school and are likely to have more comfortable lives ahead as a result. “Education is the upgrade my family needs,” she concludes.