A teacher and mother of four young children who left her job to join Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement against the military junta that seized government control in a coup eight months ago is now barely eking out a living, hunkered down with her family to a border camp in ethnic army-controlled territory.
Kay Mo, an ethnic Karenni who taught at a government-run primary school in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state, left her home to avoid arrest when soldiers began cracking down on striking teachers and other professionals across the country who joined civilian protesters in opposing the junta that overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.
For Kay Mo, who fled her village in May with her four sons — two under the age of 10, an infant and a toddler — this is not the first time to flee her home for safety in the jungles of eastern Myanmar. As a child she and her parents took refuge in the forest countless times during decades of civil war between the Myanmar military and ethnic rebels, she said.
“My house is the happiest place for me, but when things turn bad, I have to run and live wherever I can. I can’t think of anything else now. I want to live in the safest place with my children,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Violent clashes between rebel and junta forces erupted across Kayah state following the coup, forcing some 100,000 residents to flee their homes, taking shelter in Buddhist monasteries or in nearby hills and jungles.
Kay Mo, her husband and four sons are staying in a camp for war refugees in a zone of the state controlled by the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the dominant ethnic political organization in the state, which lies near the Thai-Myanmar border.
She and her family are facing hardship made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 17,700 people in the nation of 54 million. The spread of the virus has made it difficult to find paid work inside or outside the camp, she said.
Kay Mo and her sons are subsisting on beans and lentils donated by well-wishers, but when food rations run out, she has to forage for legumes in wooded areas.
“I mostly cook bamboo shoots and sometimes chickpeas,” she said. “Once in a while, I cook lotus and pumpkin leaves. Most of the time we eat bamboo shoots.”
“Every time the camp nurse weighed my second son, she said he was malnourished. She said he needed to eat eggs and nutritious bread, but I couldn’t feed him. I couldn’t afford that.”
At the camp, which has 178 tents to house more than 1,100 people, Kay Mo is in charge of the food management team and provides whatever food is available to those who are living there temporarily.
“What we provide to the refugees is mostly rice, oil, salt, and chickpeas,” she said. “Sometimes we have chillies but it’s not every month. This month, we have turmeric in our rations.”
The teacher’s husband, who has not been able to find work, is trying to earn money selling vegetables in the camp in the mornings, but what he makes is not enough to sustain the family.
Despite the difficulties of living in the camp, Kay Mo says she has not given up hope for the day when Myanmar is at peace again and it is safe enough for her to return to her normal life.
“I want to live in a place where there is no fear,” she said. “I just want to go back to my village, my home.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.