I was born the first daughter of three children in a Shan family which ran a small business in northern Shan State, Myanmar. I wasn’t able to live with my parents since I was a child.
They had to travel around Myanmar selling oranges to get money. Instead, I lived with my uncle who was a high school teacher. His wife had passed away, but he had two daughters and one son. At that time, school teachers’ salaries were not high, and so to get pocket money his eldest daughter and I made food to sell in our class. Even though we were poor, my uncle encouraged us to study hard.
After I graduated secondary school, I moved to Lashio because there was no high school in my hometown. Unfortunately, my parents couldn’t afford to send me to school in the city, but the temple where my father worked (he didn’t sell oranges anymore by this time) as a maintenance man gave me a scholarship by paying my fees.
When I was away at high school, my grandmother suffered multiple illnesses including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and bronchitis. She should have gone to the hospital in Lashio (the nearest big city) because there was no hospital in my hometown.
She passed away because we had no money to send her to the hospital. Ever since that time, I have dreamed of becoming a nurse who can provide people with medical care in my hometown.
Pursuing my dream, I passed the matriculation standard and earned my Myanmar high school diploma. I was accepted into the Government Technological College in Lashio. Even though this was good news, I couldn’t be happy because at the same time my parents and younger brothers fled Myanmar because of an ongoing war between the government and the Shan army along the Thai-Myanmar border. I lived alone, working as a primary school teacher in my hometown to support myself. However, as my dream was to become a nurse, I looked for other ways to make my dream come true.
I couldn’t go to the university because I had no money to pay tuition fees, so I eventually decided to go stay with my parents in the camp. We struggled in the camp to survive.
About Mwe Leng
- Age: 27
- Ethnicity: Shan
- Country: Myanmar
School & Program
- Mae Fah Luang University
- Bachelor’s, Public Health
- 3rd Year in Program
Goals & Dreams
- Become a nurse
- Open a pay-for-service clinic in her hometown
- Loan Amount: $8,700
- Amount Left To Fund: $4,700
- Contract Duration: 14 years
- Status: In School
Mwe Leng, in her own words
My dad carried water from the valley to sell to the Shan soldiers, their families, and other refugees in the camp on top of the mountain. I could see how exhausted he was because he was very thin. Our family was surviving on my father’s small income, and he and my mother fought every day because we had so little money. It was a stressful time, and I felt guilty I couldn’t help my parents by earning any money.
After about two months, I received good news from the camp clinic—I had been chosen to receive medical training. During the training, I learned how to give first aid treatment to sick soldiers. I learned the skills and pleasure of taking care of people. My dream to become a nurse grew stronger.
About seven months later, the leader of the clinic introduced me to the Shan Health Committee, the organization that provides medical supplies to the camp clinic. They asked me if I wanted to continue my education by staying at their office in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I agreed and moved to Thailand illegally because I didn’t have enough money to pay for a visa.
I eventually found a job in an outdoor market as a street stall vendor, and with my very first salary sent money to support my two younger brothers’ school fees and gave some money to my parents. After five months of working as a vendor, I applied for an internship at Thabyay Education Foundation. I worked at Thabyay for two months with its library project. While I was working there, a fellow intern told me about We women foundation, and We women helped me join BEAM Education Foundation (BEAM). BEAM helped me complete my GED in order to apply to university. With BEAM’s support, I’m now studying nursing science at Chiang Mai University.
Choosing a career in nursing is a decision not to take lightly. The work can be very physically and emotionally demanding. Nurses really must love what they do. I believe I will be a successful nurse because my heart is in it. The most important thing to be a successful nurse is to ask yourself if you enjoy helping, teaching, and interacting with people. Also, do blood and body fluids bother you? Of course, I’ve asked myself all of these questions many times for many years. My answers tell me that I am passionate about becoming a nurse.
Myanmar’s healthcare system requires many improvements. The country has an urgent need for access to healthcare, particularly in rural areas. For instance, the closest hospital to my village is 14 kilometers away. There is a market once a week where people from the city come to sell vegetables, and people who are very old and can’t ride a motorbike go to the city hospital by one of the market cars. Sometimes, riding these cars makes their illnesses worse because the cars make many stops on the way to the city. Some people pass away before arriving in the city. I decided to become a nurse in order to help people in my home village. I will go back and open a clinic for the people there after I earn my bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Setting up and operating a clinic in my village will not be easy. It will take money and I realize that I will need to make money by operating a pay-for-service clinic. I will also need to ask help from the monks in the village to open a free clinic in the evening at the temple for people who cannot pay. I will work in my clinic during the day and give free care in the temple in the evening with the monks’ help.
Being a nurse is a valuable and vital profession. I have never seen any profession which shows so much care for other human beings. I’ve faced many obstacles to get to this point but I believe this has made me stronger and my heart bigger. I also believe that when I become a nurse, there will be a lot of people who will wear big smiles on their faces because they helped me achieve my dream which is to make the world a better place.
Written by Mwe Leng with editing assistance from Zomia’s volunteer editors.
“In order for Myanmar people to make our country better, we must try to make our own families better first. Therefore, I’m going to try to save the lives of the people in my home village which will also benefit the life expectancy of people in my country.”
“Choosing a career in nursing is a decision not to take lightly. The work can be very physically and emotionally demanding. Nurses really must love what they do. I believe I will be a successful nurse because my heart is in it. ”