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The World We Share: Meet William

The World We Share: Meet William

July 4, 2024 10 min read

Nearly twenty years after his father returned to Myanmar from Malaysia, Waira Min Kyaw embarked on the same journey in search of better opportunities. Waira, known to friends as William, never dreamed of going abroad unless it was to further his studies, but with the escalating political situation in his home country, it was time to make a choice.

From a young age, William was exposed to the pros and cons of migrating. “It’s strange because at three years old, you still don’t know who your father is very well. When I was around six, all of a sudden he came back and I thought, ‘who is this guy I’ve never seen in my life?'” shared William.

Of course, even while far away, his father had actually been very present sending much-needed funds back to his family on a regular basis.

Staying behind and the stories of those who left

William’s father while working in Malaysia.

We often talk about the work ethic and resilience of migrants, but what of the family members that stay behind? William remembers a childhood of eating fresh fruits and vegetables picked straight from the family garden.

“I miss my mom cooking’s the most. I would say everything she makes is good. But in particular, I would say my favorite is her lahpet thoke salad. In other parts of the world, you just drink green tea, but in Myanmar we eat it, especially in salads like this one,” remembers William.

Growing up in the smallest state in Myanmar, William was surrounded by people who often thought of moving abroad. The state’s proximity to Thailand also serves as a dangling carrot for many looking to improve their family’s quality of life. But William’s perspective on migration was shaped by the experience of staying behind and the stories of those who left.

“Growing up, I always heard about migrating to other countries. Most people go to Thailand or Malaysia. I remember waiting for my father’s letters. Because we didn’t have any internet or express delivery services, we could only send gifts or receive them when someone was visiting Myanmar.”

Nowadays, many migrants stay in touch with their loved ones through WhatsApp or other social media. But back then, William’s mom would take the family to get their pictures taken and printed so they could mail it to his father.

William’s mom with her children in Myanmar.

The opportunity to move abroad and provide for the family

William’s father worked in a furniture factory in Malaysia for three years. Though he had set out to stay longer, the factory he worked at had to be shut down after a fire. “This happened before his job contract was over, but because he couldn’t find another opportunity, he had to come back to Myanmar,” said William.

Inspired by his father’s experiences, William’s goal has been to help Burmese workers to change their mentality about migration. Though his community is used to blue-collar migration, William believes with the right set of tools and skills, many Burmese people can enter foreign white-collar workforces as well.

“Most of the Myanmar citizens who are living abroad, especially in Malaysia, work in construction or manufacturing. We don’t have many opportunities to find white collar jobs abroad and for factory workers, migrating and doing the manual labor is very hard.”

In order to contribute to his community, William dreamt of becoming a vocational coach so that he can help Burmese citizens develop marketable skills and help them better understand their rights and opportunities.

“When you migrate without the right information, you can find yourself in many vulnerable situations. This happens a lot to Burmese people because quality education isn’t easily available for everyone. If migrants had vocational skills, they could get better positions with better pay to support their families,” shared William.

Unfortunately, the pandemic hit right when he was trying to obtain his vocational trainer license. By the time restrictions were ending, the political situation in Myanmar had escalated in his country. So, when William saw the opportunity to move abroad for work, he accepted.

Living abroad: corridor champion, communities, and professional dreams

After landing a job with Ria in 2022, William followed in his father’s footsteps by migrating to Malaysia. In our Kuala Lumpur office, William started out as a corridor champion, working closely with the Myanmar community, explaining the benefits of using safe money transfer options like Ria.

“I go and create the community events like football festivals and then also doing Facebook live for my community and sharing about our projects and services. Whenever I talk about our services, I always refer back to my childhood. One time, when my family relied on my father’s paycheck, he trusted someone to send the money back to us and the man ran away,” explained William.

For William, working as a corridor champion has been a great first step at making his professional dreams come true. But he’s also found that moving to Malaysia has been very fulfilling at a personal level. Recently, William visited the KL Twin Towers, literally retracing his father’s steps.

“Twenty-two years back, my father used to work in a different city. But he visited Kuala Lumpur and sent us a postcard with a picture of the Twin Towers. I still have the picture, and seeing it is very fascinating for me. The first place I visited in Malaysia was the KL Tower while I waiting for my visa application process to finish. Standing there, I decided I was going to go for it.”

Getting used to his new country

Malaysia has always been very close to William’s heart. It’s a place he was constantly hearing about when he was growing up and that was prominently featured in the correspondence between his parents. But following the circumstances in which he had to move, he had feared that leaving Myanmar had also meant losing his dream and community.

“It turns out that working at Ria, I’m never away from home. I’m able to speak my local language and meet all the Burmese people here in Malaysia. My colleagues are also very friendly and helpful. Coming here, I was shocked at the diversity in and out of the office,” shared William.

William’s perception of Malaysia before moving was that it was an Islamic country. For this reason, he wanted to be as polite and respectful as possible since he was coming from a different cultural background. William was pleasantly surprised to find Kuala Lumpur was actually home to not just Malay locals but also many people from Indian and Chinese backgrounds, among many others. In this way, he gets to enjoy festivities from a wide range of cultures, including his own.

If he had to pick, William’s favorite thing about Malaysia is the food. That being said, when he’s homesick he tries to mimic his mother’s cooking. “As I said, the green tea salad she made for us was the best. I really miss that. I tried to go to a Burmese shop to get groceries, but even with those ingredients, it’s still missing the spot. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t taste the same, so I keep missing her.”

William and his parents.

Working at Ria and learning about Burmese people abroad

Though William was only 21 when he joined Ria in Malaysia, he’s already come a long way in his professional development. During his time as corridor champion, he learned a lot about himself and his community. When asked what he had learned about Burmese people abroad, he said: “They are always welcoming and are very friendly. I’m proud of that. They are also very transparent. If they like something, they’ll say so. And if they don’t like it, they’ll also say it.”

He’s now moved on to work in our Compliance department in search of gaining new skills but has felt at home regardless of the department. “I feel like we are very friendly and very diverse. You will never feel left out working here because there is always someone that can help you and working together is fun,” shared William.

William at Ria.

Looking ahead: hope, learning and helping the community

As he spends time abroad, William has found that there are a lot of things he could do to help his community. Right now, he’s content helping them send money back home safely but hopes to one day return to Myanmar. “Now that I’ve been an expat in a foreign country, I can share my experiences with my community. When I’m older, if the situation in my country is back to normal, I would like to return to my small state and start my vocational school. I’d like to teach them how we can develop our skills and go abroad as experts as well,” said William.

In the past, William worked in the hospitality and insurance industries. Now, he’s happy to be learning as much as possible in the financial sector. He’s noticed that one of the greatest pain points in Myanmar is the lack of financial literacy. Because children aren’t taught finances in school, they have a harder time as adults when they have to manage a household. William believes all the knowledge he’s acquired, and will continue to acquire, in different sectors will ultimately benefit his community members when he’s able to return.

“I could request for asylum and migrate to other Western countries, but in my heart I still believe that my country will be peaceful again. When that happens, they’ll need those who can help the community. I will go back whenever they need me and share my knowledge and skillset,” he said.

Advice for other migrants

Like William, there are thousands of migrants out there trying to do right by their families, communities, and themselves. But it can be hard to juggle it all, especially when you’re leaving behind everything you know and love.

“To them I would say, dream big and know yourself. If you do those two things, you will know what skills you need in order to make your dreams come true. Develop your skills and knowledge and never be afraid or shy about what you dreamed of. Sometimes the dream could be big, but take it step by step. Eventually you’ll reach the goal. And above all, don’t forget to have fun. Don’t miss out on this part of your life.”

William also urges migrants to ask for help when they need it and to remember to give back to their communities once they have the chance. And you can really take his word for it, because William certainly leads by example.

If you need to send money to your loved ones in Myanmar, we’re here for you.

About the author

Gabrielle van Welie

Gabrielle van Welie is Ria's Global Content Manager. Originally from Dominican Republic, she specializes in the cultural impact of remittances and migration across the globe.

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