As Ma Lin Lin watches her four children play in the yard, smiles wide and bellies full, she reflects on a time when this wasn’t always the case.
A few short months ago, her family was struggling to make ends meet, to keep up with the costs of schooling, food, clothes – basic necessities for herself, her husband and their four children.
This is a common story in Myanmar. As the country emerges from five decades of economic isolation, its people are finding their places in the emerging market. Facing daily challenges, big and small, they are working to overcome hardships while seeking new opportunities.
Ma Lin Lin lives in Kyu Wun Village, Patheingyi – a two-hour drive from Mandalay, Myanmar’s second- largest city. Like most from her village, Ma Lin Lin and her husband worked at the local limestone mine. Waking at dawn, her husband smashed boulders with a sledgehammer while she collected the small rocks and loaded them into a truck. Long days in the relentless heat with barely any breaks were exhausting, mentally and physically.
Ma Lin Lin and her husband did their best to take care of their family with the meager 4,000 kyats ($4) they earned each day. Some days they wouldn’t get paid at all, and Ma Lin Lin would have to borrow money from her fellow villagers.
Days like those made Ma Lin Lin dream of a better life – a life where her children wouldn’t go to school hungry.
One rare day, Ma Lin Lin was too sick to go to work. Representatives from Pact, an international NGO working in Myanmar, were visiting the village to encourage women to join Swan Yi, a program delivered in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company.
Swan Yi, which directly translates to “capacity building,” teaches women fundamental financial literacy and business skills. Swan Yi organizes groups of 20 to 25 women and establishes savings-led village banks, complemented by organizational training on the roles and responsibilities of members, the selection of group leaders, safe money handling, and saving and loaning principles and practices.
Ma Lin Lin jumped at the opportunity. In her minimal spare time, she attended the training sessions, read the course materials and asked questions. After four short months, she put together a plan to start her own curry business.
Now, before anyone else is awake, Ma Lin Lin navigates the dark and dusty streets of her village to the bus stop. Leaving at 3 a.m., she travels to the city to buy ingredients and, upon return, cooks and opens her curry stand. She sells delicious meals to her friends and neighbors, and serves hot meals to her family.
Ma Lin Lin quickly learned that the profit earned from the stand could not only cover the basic needs of her family. For the first time ever, she was able to save money. By applying newly gained business skills, she realized she could earn an even greater profit if she opened up a snack stand.
Running two businesses is not an easy task, but working in safe conditions without worrying about where the next meal will come from makes it all worth it. The family recently purchased a motorcycle for transportation and a TV for the children to watch at night.
“Swan Yi inspired me to start my own business,” says a smiling Ma Lin Lin. “I love cooking every day and can feed my children their favorite food. Our life is much better now. I hope to be a part of the program for many years, and that it is there for my children and grandchildren, too.”
Ma Lin Lin is still learning. She continues to participate in Swan Yi trainings to gain new skills needed to build her businesses, with the hopes of one day expanding.
Her biggest dream used to be to support her children until they graduated. Now, she can give them opportunities for a brighter future in Myanmar’s emerging economy.
“Ma Lin Lin paved a new path forward for her family and is testament to the fact that when women are empowered, it not only benefits them, but uplifts their families and the entire community,” says Rehan Khan, general manager, Coca-Cola Myanmar. “Swan Yi provides women entrepreneurs with new opportunities to thrive as contributors to the local economy, while building sustainable communities across the country.”
Ma Lin Lin is one of dozens of women in her village who actively participate in Swan Yi, joining a support system of strong and empowered women working to better their lives and the lives of their families. Her story is just one of the stories of the 24,500 women the Swan Yi program will empower in Myanmar by 2015, and one of the 5 million women around the world The Coca-Cola Company aims to empower by 2020 as part of its 5by20 commitment.
The three-year Swan Yi program is supported by a $3 million grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation, the global philanthropic arm of The Coca-Cola Company.