Moa is 19 years old and in her first year of university. She has been part of Kwah Dao since it was founded in 2000 when she attended the Rainbow School.
Moa’s parents are from Baan-Haad village in the Lankur District of Shan State. The first time they came to Thailand Moa was 2 years old. They walked through the jungle for 5 days, taking turns carrying her, and settled in a refugee village. Not long after, everyone in the village was arrested for working without a permit and while her father escaped, Moa and her mother, Tuay, spent a week in prison before being fined and deported. They reunited in Burma and stayed for a few more years, making a living growing rice and sesame seeds. When Moa was about 6 and her younger sister, Suay-mat, was about 3, the family saved and borrowed enough money to go to Thailand again. Since then she has been back to Burma only once, when she was in Grade 8.
The family live in the Rock Village and Moa’s parents, like most of the residents, work collecting rocks from the river. This is backbreaking work which involves standing in the river all day scooping rocks out from the bottom and sieving them, for which they each earn 200B a day. This is barely enough to live off with the rising cost of living in Thailand, and far under the Thai minimum wage of 300B per day.
Neither Moa, nor her sister, have a birth certificate, a fact which causes them much worry and uncertainty. Moa says that if she had one she would probably be able to get Thai nationality and thus gain acceptance from society in the country she calls home. In fact, up until just last year, the sisters thought that they would be unable to get graduation certificates from school, as that is what they had originally been told by their teachers. This would make it impossible for them to continue their education beyond high school. After KD staff encouraged them to go and enquire further, the next week both sisters came to us in tears as they told us they had now been informed that they would be able to graduate, the same as the Thai students.
Although quiet and shy, Moa is very hard-working and driven. She has always studied hard and achieves top grades. She loves studying and hanging out with her friends, despite reporting that she sometimes gets harassed by others and called names because she is Shan. This is something she says she has come to accept as a part of life for her. While at school she worked after school and on weekends in a shop, saving most of the money she earned. Over two years she managed to save up 20,000 Baht ($670) to put towards her education, an impressive feat for a teenager when her family has so little. She used this money to enrol in a distance law course run by a prestigious Bangkok university, which involved self-study and trips to the nearest city for lectures every few weeks on top of her final year of high school. Moa had planned to pay for the course herself, however after KD staff heard about this and talked with her, we offered to pay the fees for her. Despite this, most of her savings were used up in just a few months from travel and other related expenses.
Moa is currently in her first year studying accounting at Mae Jo University in Chiang Mai. She is hoping to also continue her studies in law on top of this. She sees education as the only way she can improve her life and that of her family. She sees her parents standing in the river working day after day as they have done for over a decade in order to send her and her sister to school. She wants to be able to support them so that they don’t have to work so hard, and make them proud of her. She plans to take what she learns and go on to use it to help others like herself.