Making Hard Choices
It wasn’t difficult to trace Aye Soe’s biological father. His wife and their three sons were also affected by Nargis and moved to a village called Tar Lu Pha Taw. When contacted by the MRCS volunteers and UNICEF field staff, Aye Soe’s father came to the shelter for her.
“But I did not want to leave Myat Mon and Htet Kyaw – they are all I had and they needed me. My father came three times, but I couldn’t go with him,” says Aye Soe.
On the Burmese New Year Thingyan in April 2009 – Aye Soe’s father took all three children into his home. They stayed there for two weeks. It wasn’t easy, especially for the younger two, to get along with the children in that family – fights occurred frequently.
Myat Mon and Htet Kyaw ached to return to the shelter that had become their safe haven. In a heartbreaking decision, Aye Soe reluctantly agreed to stay on after her father pleaded with her.
She is now enrolled in a school close to home and helps out with the family business and household chores. “I am good at counting. I help my stepmother to sell fish. I also help her look after the boys. But I miss the little ones, my mother and the family I grew up with,” Aye Soe says.
Follow the Boats
Myat Mon and Htet Kyaw returned to the shelter at the end of April. One year after Nargis, the two were the last remaining orphans at the shelter.
“We got attached to the children we looked after, and they to us. Especially Myat Mon and Htet Kyaw. They stayed for the longest time. At one point, we almost gave up on finding a home for the younger two and considered chipping in our own funds to look after them. They did not want to leave. But our organisation could not keep them forever,” says another MRCS volunteer, Su Su Hlaing.
Meanwhile, search efforts were redoubled, a task made much harder by massive internal migration that followed the disaster. Of the many people queried, a boatman said he might know the children’s uncle. “This uncle was elusive,” says Thida Seine, UNICEF Child Protection Officer in Laputta, “but we just wouldn’t give up on the clue that took us so long to find. Taking cues from people, we followed the boats and ultimately found him.”
A travelling fish trader, U Soe Gyi hardly ever stayed more than a couple of days in one place. He and his brothers did not keep in touch with each other. However, U Soe Gyi knew of his brother’s children. He identified the kids and contacted his other brother U Tin Soe, who lives with his family in Dagon May village.
Incidentally, U Shay Gyi’s 26-year-old daughter from his first marriage, Yin Yin Htay, was also living with U Tin Soe’s family.
This was a dramatic turn of events. Not only do Myat Mon and Htet Kyaw now have two uncles, but they also have a much older half sister. Both uncle and sister, on discovering the existence of the children, eagerly welcomed them into their family and their home.
It was the best thing that anyone could have hoped for.
The speedboat anchors in Dagon May village. Aye Soe walks along the village path towards the house. The children run out of the house to greet her. She picks up Ye Htet Kyaw and holds him close. “My beautiful brother! Hug me, hug me. Did you miss me?” says Aye Soe, her voice choked as tears roll down her eyes. Myat Mon sits next to Aye Soe, sobbing.
It takes a while for their emotions to subside. The family sits down together for lunch, happy the children are reunited – at least for some time. “We heard so much about you, we are glad you are visiting,” says Yin Htay.
“We felt responsible when we heard about the children. They are our family. Children are important to us Myanmar people. We do not have a lot but we are willing to share what we have,” U Tin Soe says.
He invites Aye Soe to visit again, “You are welcome to visit and stay with us for a few days when you feel like it.” Eight-year-old Myat Mon tries to negotiate for more. “Why doesn’t she live with us uncle? She is your niece just as I am!”
“But I don’t have any more money to buy rice for her my dear,” teases U Tin Soe.
“Don’t worry, I will give you back the money uncle, when I grow up and be a teacher,” insists Myat Mon.
It’s time to say goodbye. The young faces darken once again. A large group of people walk towards the river bank to see Aye Soe off. She stands on the bank, huddling close to Myat Mon, Htet Kyaw and Yin Htay. “I forgot for a while that I had to go,” she says, getting into the boat.
“I am happy for Myat Mon and Htet Kyaw, they have a loving family. I am so glad I could meet them. I miss them and part of me wishes I could live with them again. But how can I? They are my little brother and sister but I am not related to their new family and they are not related to mine,” she says wistfully.
It’s not a fairy tale ending, but it is a good one nonetheless. As good as it can be, given the tragic circumstances. Nargis tore apart a family, and separated the three siblings. But they have found new families and homes. And all three are looking to the future – a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.
|Snowy on 12 July 2011 ,19:48 |
anyone knows how to do a reflection on this aticle i nid it for a english project
|Sonia Alave on 19 May 2010 ,15:31 |
I was touched when I read the story "The Long Road Home". It taught us to value everything God has given us. The loss of love ones may hurt but God has its purpose. I was blessed that I have my family with me despite the trials and temptations that cames into our lives, we are still united. God bless those children who lost their family in the recent storm that struck Myanmar.
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