Mwei Mwei is one of my favorites. (Or Mway Mway; she uses both because it’s really မွှေးမွှေး) After a little hiatus to Bangkok, she’s been back in our lives for over a year now. She makes porcelain jewelry for Sojourn Studios two days per week, and also sews canvas bags for Housewares one day per week. With this job, she also studies at our house: she takes private Thai lessons once per week that are subsidized by Sojourn Studios; I’ve been teaching her math; and Stephen’s been teaching her guitar and photography. We have hopes of starting her on Rosetta Stone in English in coming months.
We’ve learned that if you can find something she loves or cares about, she’ll give it her all. If she doesn’t care or feels she’s competing with a sibling, she sits back and quite obviously doesn’t put in effort. It’s been a learning curve to find her strengths, find her passions, and get to know her.
One of those things that motivates her? Photography. She loves it, and has an eye for it. She has been easy to teach and has picked it up quickly. And now we want to show her that she can make a future of this; she has skills she can offer to both us and the whole world.
So after a few months of photography lessons on Stephen’s Canon DSLR, we’ve given her the project of taking photos in the community every week. She can choose what to photograph: Sojourn Studios jewelry, the kids playing or taking classes, sewing projects, The Breakfast Club, Flour & Flowers, The Reinforcers. She captures photos through the week, and in her class she sorts and edits, with Stephen’s oversight.
Nyein Nyein, one of our Flour & Flower bakers, and the best tortilla roller!
Pyint Soe, a Reinforcer and high school student; son of Daw Ma Oo, the Flower Lady
And then we buy them! Each week, we pay her for the photos that are good. We give her two different rates, for if she captures a good moment, but perhaps it not fully in focus or not well aligned. Photographically it might not be amazing, but we love the people and love that she captured it! And then, when she really captures a beautiful photo with great skill, she makes a pretty decent price for our little neighborhood!
Since we started, she’s made a few extra dollars most weeks. Last week, she took photos of San Aye making jewelry, and did an absolutely stellar job. She made nearly double her weekly salary!
We’re pretty excited about this. We’ve helped her create a watermark, and explained how this shows everyone it’s her photography. We showed her this blog and our monthly updates, so she understands where the photos are used and why. We’ve explained how our friends and family in the States want to meet our friends and learn about our lives here; and that through gifts of the Church, we are able to do all these projects and create jobs like hers.
It’s always intimidating to share all of this with our neighborhood. But a friend posted an African proverb the other day that I think captures it quite well, “Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”
While I think this captures the point, I’m not sure I want to be represented as a hunter, nor do I wish to present my friends as lions. But the idea still stands that if we never open this up to their perspectives, you will only see ours.
I don’t know if we’re to the point we can equip our neighbors to tell their own stories, but I hope someday we can. For now, this feels like one of the first steps. We want you to see our neighborhood, and for our friends to be presented, from another view that isn’t just ours. We don’t want you to always see what we see or praise what we praise; it will probably always make us look good.
But if we give our friends room to tell you themselves, to show you their lives and their work and their skills, we hope that honors them.
So enjoy these beautiful photos that Mwei Mwei skillfully captured, and be looking for more photos with her watermark on it! We are excited to see where this can take her, and us, too.