Fisherman Aung Soe struggles to support his wife, Ma May, and their five children on a 3,500-3,000 baht ($110-95 USD)/month. Fourteen years ago, the couple left Burma in search of better economic conditions in Thailand.
The family lives in a two-room concrete building they share with other relatives. With utility expenses alone are over $60 USD/month on housing costs.
Like most migrant workers, Soe works as a fisherman. He leaves around 1 p.m. but doesn’t return until they catch fish, which can sometimes take 24 hours. His employer applied for a work permit for him in July. Now, he has more rights and can travel freely.
Their 13-year-old daughter, Zin Mi Mi Soe, attends a school for Burmese migrants, where she studies Burmese, Thai and English.
The school provides a sorng-taa-ou bus system for students consisting of several pickup trucks with facing rows of seats in the back. Due to a shortage of trucks, she must wait an hour after school to catch the second round buses to take her home to her village 30 minutes away.
Zin Mi Mi Soe’s mother, Ma May, carries her youngest son to the school bus.
Eight-year old Min Thu Soe naps on the lone mattress the family has in their home. He is mute and does not attend school. He communicates with his family through a series of hand gestures.
Two fish from the previous day's catch sit by the back door of their house. The back room consists of wooden boards haphazardly pieced together with loose boards and gaping holes.
The family struggles to pay the school fees for their daughter and youngest son. Her goal is help her mother and she fears about not being able to finish school.
Win Yu and Sang Yu left Burma for Thailand over 20 years ago in search of better economic conditions. Even with a work permit, they struggle to support their three children on a monthly salary of 5,000 Baht ($156 USD). They both work 12-hour nightly shifts at a rubber plantation and odd jobs during the day.
Win Yu taps uses a curved chisel-like tool to scrap the bark of a rubber tree to release the latex from the bark. Tapping is done at night when the internal pressure in the tree is the highest.
Afterwards, the rubber is collected in pans and rolled into sheets by hand. The sheets are compressed by metal rolling machines and left to dry in the sun. The sheets are later sold at the market.
Seven-year-old Soe Myat Min, right, waits for his teacher to grade his assignment. He and his younger brother attend a school for Burmese migrants near their house.
During their lunch break at school, the children walk home to eat. Lunch is only provided by the school for the nursery students. Older students must bring their own lunch.
The boys play in the hallway of the their former five-room house with toys and a plastic gun. The house belongs to the rubber plantation owner who rented out the house earlier this year. The family of five now lives in a two-room concrete apartment attached to the back of the house. They do not have to pay rent but must pay utilities and maintenance costs.
The oldest son, Myoe Oo Twen, lost three fingers in one of the rolling machines at the rubber plantation where his parents work. After his accident, his parent’s stopped brining the children to work, and Myoe would watch the other children at night. Due to financial problems, he was forced to quit school earlier this year to work with his parents.
“When we were studying in the past, we used to write on a chalkboard,” says Win Yu. “I went through this way of life but now my children have a chance in this modern world. Schools and learning opportunities are available. If my children are unable to study, I am going to be a useless father. My kids are going to feel bad when they are growing up seeing their friends who are on a higher level. And, then they are going to blame us.”
Despite their hectic work schedule, both parents try to be home with the children as much as possible.
Win Yu has a Burmese passport and a work permit, which allows him to legally work in Thailand. Despite the permit, he often isn’t paid the standard wage for the side jobs he works because he is a migrant.
“There are many difficulties,” explains San Yu. “I want my sons to be educated persons like my parents wanted us but we had no choice. We have to send them back to Burma.” She and her husband hope to send their children back to Burma to study in March 2014.