The following is from an interview with Daw Yin Yin Myint, 44 years old, who inherited her family’s wood carving business two decades ago. She’s married and the mother of three sons, and lives in North Okkalapa Township, Yangon, Myanmar. She relies on loans from Accion partner DAWN Microfinance, which specializes in serving women entrepreneurs. Financial services in Myanmar, which until recently was a country largely cut off from the global economy, are evolving rapidly and the use of digital technology is spreading. DAWN and Accion have worked together since 2015.
As is the case for many in Myanmar, her ambitions for her business and family are growing even faster than the economy is. Here is Daw Yin Yin Myint’s story, in her own words.
“I’ve been working in wood carving for my whole life. I only finished 8th grade before I was working full-time in the carving shop, then after my parents died I took over the business. I was just 23 years old. Everyone working here is family — my three brothers, my two nieces, and four nephews. Everyone helps the business.
“Using the loan from DAWN, I buy wood from a supplier in Yangon, then we sell the finished carvings to a trader, who brings them to Myawaddy, near the Thai border. The carvings — mostly elephants and Buddhas — are then sold in tourist markets in Thailand.
If I needed money for an emergency, I would ask the trader for an advance payment, then make up the debt over time. I also borrow from moneylenders at 5% per month when I need extra money for a large purchase. I don’t use pawn shops. If I could get a larger loan from DAWN, I would be able to make larger purchases at a lower price, and I would save money on transportation to and from the market.
I don’t see much of my children, and that is the hardest part of this business. I make them their lunch box at 5 am, then they go to school, and I work until 5 pm. We have dinner together and then they go to bed. I can’t give them any attention during the day because I am so busy with the business.
I don’t want my sons to do this work forever. I want them to go to university, learn to use a computer, and work for a big company.”
Interview conducted by Jason Loughnane for Accion