Eh Gay Dah grew up in a village in Kayin State in the south of Myanmar. He was born in 1989 into a family experiencing the effects of the violent quashing of student protests the year before. When his elder brothers became teenagers the family worried that they might be forced to join the army, and they fled across the border to become immigrant workers in Thailand. They had not passed their high school qualifications, and left school without graduating. Eh Gay Dah however was interested in school, and his family all supported and encouraged him. As someone of Karen background, he experienced a barrier to education that a lot of ethnic groups in Myanmar encounter:
“When I finished primary school, I needed to move to the middle school that quite far from my village. At that time, all of the teachers used Burmese language in teaching all of the subjects. Every day, I just sit in the classroom and listened to the teachers without understanding what they taught. And also I was so silent in the class because I was not capable to communicate in Burmese. Every day, I just went back home and studied lesson without knowing the meaning.”
This method of rote learning is standard in Myanmar, and he successfully completed his middle school education despite not speaking Burmese.People from the community were perplexed by his decision to study, and often asked his parents why they didn’t send him to Thailand along with his brothers, to make money. Eh Gay Dah however was passionate about education at this point, and with the help of a scholarship and his parents support undertook Library and Information Studies at the University of East Yangon. When he graduated Eh Gay Dah started to become interested in the workings of his community, and in particular in the work of community leaders.
Eh Gay Dah applied to Prospect Burma’s bridging programme to help better equip himself to be a future leader. He wants to gain an IELTS qualification in order to undertake a masters in Rural Development overseas, where he will gain important knowledge about infrastructure development, management and stakeholder management. Eh Gay Dah arrived at Prospect Burma’s Yangon office in early February 2019. It was his first time living in a big city, away from the house he had lived in with his family for nearly 30 years. He told us:
“In Yangon, it takes a lot of time [to travel] because of traffic jam. Also, crowded people and traffic jam affect the environment to become noise and pollute, whereas my city town is pleasure of fresh air and silent environment.”