By Phyllis Lee
Myanmar youths from rural regions value education, but in their process of seeking out a better future, they may end up losing more than they can afford to.
This is what happened to one 25-year-old male youth from Mindat, Chin State.
In August, Mr Tun Yaw visited a recruitment agency, Myanmar United Channel, in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. Friends had told him about a billboard advertisement the agency put up, offering a 6-month study and 6-month work opportunity in Singapore.
It stated that there was “guaranteed employment upon course completion”.
Out of desperation and poverty, the eldest of three boys with a single mother decided to take up the offer in hopes of earning more money for his family.
He enrolled into the Diploma in Hospitality and Hotel Management at International Cuisine Association of Singapore Training & Education College (ICASTEC) through the agency on Aug 22 – although school had already began on Aug 7. This was because he had to spend some time to raise S$6,100 for the education package and registration fee. He forked out an additional US$120 for his flight ticket.
The agency did not disclose any additional details when they gave him the contract for the programme. He signed it, thinking that his living expenses, food, and accommodation in Singapore would be covered by the money he paid.
Right before his flight on Aug 24, the recruitment agency gave him S$4,600 in cash and told him to give that sum to the school when he arrived in Singapore.
Strangely, when the driver from the agency’s Singapore branch arrived to pick him up from the airport, he was shouted at and forced to hand over the money. It is understood that the money went to both the agency and school.
That night, he was ushered to a HDB flat along McNair Road with 12 other occupants. It is believed that the residence is a four-room unit.
He was then told that he had to pay S$350 per month for his stay.
Realising his mistake
Before Tun Yaw left his home country, he had contacted his former music teacher Wong Kae Chee from Singapore on Facebook. The pair had met when Ms Wong was a volunteer teacher at Tun Yaw’s college in Nagaland, India. He had notified her of his upcoming trip, and wanted to pay her a visit.
On Aug 26, he sent a distressed message to Ms Wong via Facebook saying that he made a mistake. He met up with her and explained the whole situation. After staying at her house for that night, he headed back to his rented flat the next day.
When Ms Wong went down to ICASTEC to meet Tun Yaw on his first day of school (Aug 28), he finally decided that he could not afford the additional costs he had to pay if he were to continue staying in Singapore.
Setting things right
When the pair requested for a course fee refund from the school’s principal on Aug 30, they were turned down. As the course had already started, they were told that they could only appeal on grounds of compassion.
He eventually managed to get back S$300 from the school as a form of goodwill.
Ms Wong also went down to the local branch of United Channel to ask for a refund from the agency. They agreed to return S$1,400 to Tun Yaw at the Yangon branch.
Ms Wong housed Tun Yaw for five nights, from Aug 31 to Sept 5, so that he would not have to pay for any more rent. He had paid S$65 for his stay in the rented HDB unit during the last week of August, and moved out before having to pay another full month’s rent on Sept 1.
During his stay, Ms Wong discreetly sought help from her close friends and family members, raising S$3,650 to cover his loss. She even paid for his flight back.
Tun Yaw returned to his home country on Sept 5, and has since found a job in construction in Muse, Shan state.
Similar cases are still rampant in Myanmar
According to Tun Yaw, such cases are a dime a dozen in Myanmar.
He said: “It’s my mistake, I’ll learn to be smarter next time.”
But Ms Wong wants to let the world know of his story – in an attempt to prevent such incidents from happening again.
She told The Independent:
“He was misled, and he was not the only one. At least I helped him with the bulk of the money, but I can’t do this for everybody. If he had nobody here, he’d be completely lost. He’d have to spend and borrow more money. I’d hate to think that a lot of people have to come this way and be in the same dilemma.”
Ms Wong emailed the agency to highlight this issue, and even posted on their Facebook page to warn other youths of being misled by the billboard advertisement.
“It’s quite popular in Myanmar. Word spread around that this is an easy way to come to Singapore to get a diploma and work. There’re many agencies there (putting up misleading information about studying and working in Singapore).”
The schools have to keep a check on their recruiting partners, she added.
“How would these boys and girls know? To them, Singapore is a very safe and secure place. They come to Singapore and get a big disappointment. When they go back, they’re none the better. Here in Singapore, we make money out of them, but we don’t add any value to them.”