We’ve all heard about what’s going on with the coup in Myanmar, and as parents, our hearts broke when we heard about the little girl who was killed. But we are far away, in a country where safety and stability are like the sun and the moon in the sky. Where our children grow up innocently, sheltered, in a proverbial ‘bubble’. So we asked one of our #FathersOfSingapore, Leon Qiu, who works with the locals in Myanmar, to share an insider’s view.
I have contributed many columns across diverse topics to various publications in my life, but nothing is as hard as putting this together. There is pain and sadness, conflict, and a sense of hopelessness. As I write this, several media outlets have reported that a seven-year-old girl has been shot dead in Myanmar, perhaps the youngest collateral damage in the opposition onslaught to the coup. They say she was running towards her father inside their own home when the shootings occurred, her father a target of the military.
A silent protest is occurring right now, an attempt by pro-democratic activists to galvanise others to support the civil disobedience movement, boycotting businesses for a day. According to a press statement dated 23 March by Save The Children, 20 children have died in the crossfire, with at least 17 more held in arbitrary detention.
My business is in Myanmar; we have eight physical offices across the country and over 120 staff. We support them the same way they support their families. The current coup has usurped all stability that Myanmar once enjoyed. Where the streets were once emptied in light of the pandemic, civilians now gather to protest in makeshift armour, shaving down metal drums for shields. COVID-19 is no longer the star though. It has been replaced by innocent blood, bullet shells, burning tyres, and spike traps.
Parenting in the Coup
My employees are some of the most wonderful human beings I have had the opportunity to meet. They have been welcoming and patient when I needed to understand any situation. They were eager in helping our Singaporean staff navigate unfamiliar cultural norms. Many of my staff are also parents whose children are now left to tackle a Myanmar turned upside down.
I asked two of my colleagues about the current challenges bringing up their children amid a bloody coup. And they are immensely brave to share their stories.
Zar Zar Myint Aung, our human resource manager writes:
I have only one son and he is eight years old. Actually, tomorrow is his eighth birthday. I feel very sad that I can’t even buy a birthday gift for him because all the shopping centres are closed in this terrible situation.
We sent him to the Government Primary School and he supposed to attend his Primary Grade II since last year. Due to COVID, he has paused his learning. We have the expectation that school can resume from this March onwards after getting the vaccine. Now all our hopes are ruined by the coup. It really lost the way for my son’s future.
I can’t mention how I feel hurt when my son told me that his hand was shaking while he heard the sound of guns. He said, ‘My heart’s beating so fast that it nearly stopped suddenly. I was so scared in the bedroom.’ Because we ask him to stay in the bedroom when the police and soldiers are walking along in our street.
As the mother of a son, I wish to give him a better education like children in other countries. We want him to learn the highest education like as Japan, Singapore, Australia, etc, as much as we can. My only hope for my son is to be a better man — a kind-hearted, knowledgeable, and educated person who can know right and wrong, who can love the truth.
At the moment our future is fading away. But we will survive and fight for our children’s future.
Another account from our deputy COO, Tin Nilar Win, who resides in Mandalay with her husband and four-year-old daughter:
Because of COVID, she couldn’t join the kindergarten since last year and now because of the coup. Even though the military force the schools and university open, we the parents can’t let our children attend because as we all know, there can be dangers to our children in every situation during the coup.
Since most of the foreign investors have withdrawn from Myanmar, it is directly affecting the civilians in every sector. Most of the people are losing their jobs and the cost of even the daily food and fundamental needs are now rising day by day. The condition seems to be becoming worse and it feels like we are not safe at all even staying in our house. Military thugs are destroying everything (cars, motorcycles, tricycles, houses…), beating and shooting at people, arresting people (even if we are not doing anything) along the way both day and night. We all are now totally insecure and afraid of when they will come and do an act of terrorism.
As the parents of a child and as one who grew up under the military administration, I don’t want my daughter to grow up under this kind of fear like us. We are afraid to say the right things, afraid to do the right things, and afraid to think the right things. We really don’t even know what human rights mean, but we all have the hope that our new generations can learn like others in the developed countries, using their full abilities and growing up with their rights.
When we think of COVID-19, we often allude it to a global phenomenon, a curse felt by all. The Myanmar coup, however distressing, feels distant, like an isolated event occurring on some deserted island.
I can assure you that the pain the people of Myanmar are going through is real. Their children suffer now a triple whammy of COVID-19 disruption, the insidious coup, and lastly, the debilitating effects the civil disobedience movement has on the country. Since the coup began, internet access and Wi-Fi services in Myanmar have been shut down systemically from 1am to 9am local time. In addition, analysis of cellular networks shows that mobile networks remain disabled. In a country which benefited from high mobile phone penetration and access to data services, citizens are now blanketed in darkness.
An Email I Wrote to My Staff
Many of you, from what I understand, have participated and will continue to participate in the protests.
Peaceful protests usually degenerate into violence. Human mistakes are more common when people are tired, dehydrated, sick and hungry.
We make bad decisions when our bodies are weak, and our minds tired, and emotions are high.
You feel you have a duty towards your country, but always, always your family should come first.
Keep them safe from harm, safe from scrutiny, safe from the virus.
And you cannot do that if you are hurt, or captured, or quarantined, or dead.
So it is not about staying safe, it is always about staying smart. See the dangers that are invisible.
That said, as a father, I always tell my son to stand up for something. Speak for those who have no voice. Help those who cannot help themselves.
So if my son grew up to be any of you, I would be very proud.
I stand by what I said. We often forget that as parents there is no rule book to follow. No schema, no written guide on how to parent a child through unforeseen circumstances — much less a coup how to keep calm and carry on.
We do our best, and the best is really all that we can do.