Daw Aye: struggle of the elderly in Myanmar
It is 6:00AM and it is raining cats and dogs! It is time for Daw Aye to go to the fried vegetable rice dough shop to get some of them to sell. She gets the snacks in debt in the morning and goes around town to sell them. She pays back the debt in the evening after she sold the snacks. It seems to be a normal lifestyle for people but it is a different story for Daw Aye who is more than seventy years old. She has been earning her living like this for over thirty years and she hasn’t had a day, as she needs the money for her daily expenses. She has seen so many beggars who are in her age around the city. She despises begging and she decided to earn her living by selling snacks as long as she can walk.
She puts the snacks on a bamboo tray and she looks for a piece of plastic to cover the snacks from the rain, then she places the tray on her head. She is now ready to head out to sell, and she prays not to have heavy rain today again. She got sick for 3 days after she caught a cold from the heavy rain last week. People call her Ma Kalama because of her very dark skin which is the result of the hard life under the sun. Since she has been selling snacks in this area for many years, most of the people in the neighborhood know that she doesn’t have any family members that support her. People in the neighborhood pity her and often buy snacks from her, paying some extra money to help her out. She moves very slowly since her joints are not working properly anymore but she never gives up. When the day ends, she returns to her tiny hut and cooks some rice to eat with the leftover fried vegetable rice dough.
She lit a candle with her shaking hands. Her back hurts from standing all day and her legs hurt from walking around town to sell snacks. People told her to rest for a couple days and do the business again, but she could not rest because she needs to earn as much as she can to save this money for emergency health expenses. She knows that she will have health issues in a very short time because she is an over seventy. She wishes she had her children to support and take care of her, but she does not have any. She knows that she will have no one around her to take care of her if she gets very sick, therefore she has to work every single day to save money as long as she can work.
She also knows that the country’s ‘so called’ social welfare system could not help her. We used to have a very proper social welfare system under socialist government, but now those functions only exist on the paper and they are inactive. Since the system is not well functioning, there is no actions to support helpless aged people around the country. There are many aged homes around the country, but there are not enough of them. There are some Non-Government foundations that support aged homes, and some of them are even run by the government. But not all of the aged people can get access to those homes because there are strict accessing criterions. Daw Oo Zin, a silk merchant, was the founder of Myanmar aged home system and many people around the country gave donations to those homes, but we still need more and a well-functioning social welfare system in the country.
As of today, there are 65 aged homes around the country, and only over 2000 aged people get to stay there. You think this is ridiculously low number, right? And you are correct to think that way, there are around 500,000 elderly in Myanmar who do not have anyone to support and make their living by themselves. Some of them choose to beg on the streets. Some of them do not have their own shelter, so they sleep under bridges and in train stations. Some of them lost their children, some of them do not even have children like Day Aye, and some of them have been abandoned by their children. Daw Aye feels lucky since she has a place to live even though there are holes in the roof, and she feels lucky because she can still earn her living instead of begging. However, what will she do when she could not work anymore? Will the aged homes accept her, if not how will she survive? Will the next government focus on activating well-functioning social welfare system? If so, there would be less elderly in Myanmar struggling for their living, and we would have a better community! They wish to rest from the daily struggles, free from worries as they are willing to reach their final day peacefully. But this will not happen over night, it needs time and money. What will happen to Daw Aye and all people in her situation in the meantime?