Around the world, persons with disabilities face immense challenges in exercising their political and human rights, particularly in developing country like Myanmar.
Myanmar was going through historic period and the transition was very important for our citizen as it is what we had been waiting for after staying under military government for over 50 years. As a result, persons with disabilities in Myanmar are both physically and socially marginalized in all layers of society. Although Myanmar had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at the end of 2011, the previous government fulfilled the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs) extremely poorly. As the country is structured with almost none inclusion in every sector of society, it is no wonder that the persons with disabilities are facing grand challenges each day to survive.
Majority of the persons with visual impairment has very narrow choices for the career which are to be either massager or handicraft maker. It is hard to break the cycle of poverty life as there are tremendous barriers in accessing basic human rights and needs. Living independent life is simply just a pipe dream for majority of persons with visual impairment which is the result of the fear of guardians as they have no desire to let their children out of the house, knowing they will get hurt if they go out alone in this non-inclusive society.
Regardless of how undesirable the situation is, there is Saw Manine Phaung, a young blind man who chose not to give up. He was born visually impaired in a rural village in Kayin State, Myanmar. The barriers in education system were not able to defeat his eagerness to learn. He became the first one to achieve a bachelor degree in his family. He is currently living independently as a skillful audio engineer and an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities in Myanmar.
Before the 2015 election, Manine joined a band and the members are a group of persons with disabilities. They play together and educate people how to vote. Manine faced many difficulties to vote as his name was not on the list. He had to travelled to his village and advocate his whole family and villagers to vote as they previously thought it was too complicated. He said, “every vote counts for the change.”
I would like to inspire people to tell the story of brave individuals who are contributing for the betterment of the society in their own way in this transition period and Manine is one of them.
5% of Myanmar population are people with disability. I am one of them.
I had to go through many obstacles to become audio engineer. My dream is to be a musician playing in big hotels.
Outsides, every step is a danger.
There is less and less space for pedestrians. I feel like being a bowling pin.
I put my life in God’s hand whenever I cross the road.
Some people believe I am punished for sins committed during our previous lives. This is even scarier than crossing the road..
Still, there are so many good people always ready to help.
My girlfriend and I have been together for 3 years but there are many problems to get married. I’m blind and she’s not.
Plan A is to do everything I can to get her parents’ approval. Plan B is to elope.
We need a change in attitudes and this is the right time.
That’s why I joined a band before the election. We played on the back of a truck and told people how to vote.
In my village, near Hpa-an, my name was not in the voters list! I had to go through a lot of headaches and expenses to get it right.
Even my family didn’t want to vote. They thought it’s too complicated. I had to convince them.
“You are blind. Just stay at home. Why are you even voting?” the polling officer exclaimed.
I hope this vote will bring the light to our life.
I am blind… but I feel… I can see the future!
About Sai Htin Linn Htet
Sai Htin Linn Htet was born in Shan State, Myanmar in 1991. He is a street/documentary photographer who educates people about peace building. His own photographic work has focused on many subjects from covering migration, peacebuilding, human rights, animal rights pluralism issues and the aftermath of war.
He has been providing Peace Education Courses to politicians, civil society organizations, activists and youths from all over the country with the desire of motivating people to involve in peacebuilding process of Myanmar.
His vision is to integrate his peacebuilding and photography expertise to resolve ongoing multidimensional conflicts of Myanmar.
You can find Sai Htin Linn Htet on the Web:
All the pictures in this post are copyrighted Sai Htin Linn Htet. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.