• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Myanmar: UNHCR training propels young mechanic with drive to succeed

Telling the Human Story, 26 April 2012

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
On the street outside his motorcycle repair shop, Nyi Nyi Naing, 18, repairs a customer's battered machine.

MAUNGDAW, Myanmar, April 26 (UNHCR) As a young boy, Nyi Nyi Naing dreamed of becoming a mechanic. When his parents died three years ago, the then 15-year-old knew he had to make his dream come true.

Today, thanks to training provided by the UN refugee agency, the determined young man runs his own motorcycle repair shop in this small but fast-growing town in western Myanmar. He's believed to be the youngest entrepreneur in town.

"When I was young, I was always interested in mechanics," says Nyi Nyi Naing, who completed only eight years of formal education. "Before, I could only do small repairs, like change spark plugs."

His life changed when he heard about courses for mechanics offered by Bridge Asia Japan (BAJ) and funded by UNHCR. These teach men and women how to repair motorbikes and cars. With this area of Rakhine state developing quickly and vehicle ownership increasing, demand for repair services is taking off.

BAJ instructor Than Htaik Win, a mechanic for most of his life, was impressed by the fact that Nyi Nyi Naing entered the course intent on opening his own shop. To date, out of 70 men and women mechanics trained by BAJ, ten have started their own shops and some 35 others have found work in garages, but Nyi Nyi Naing is by far the youngest shop owner.

In a BAJ classroom in another part of northern Rakhine, the front row is occupied by four women, who say they wanted to do something more exciting than the traditional sewing classes they are often offered. One admits they had to first learn to drive a motorbike before they could tackle repairing them

"These vocational courses are valuable for many reasons beyond the obvious purpose of giving people skills to make a living," says Hans ten Feld, UNHCR's representative in Myanmar.

"Many of the courses give women a way to break out of cultural restrictions, and they also bring together people from various ethnic, religious and other backgrounds," he adds. "They give the Muslims of this area, who often are discriminated against, a chance to study and work with Rakhine youth like Nyi Nyi Naing, and thus promote harmony among the various population groups."

Over 45 days of training, six hours per day, Nyi Nyi Naing learned everything about how a motorcycle works. He confesses learning the wiring system was the toughest.

"I learned a lot," he says, taking a break from repairing a battered motorbike on the sidewalk in front of his shop. "Before, I didn't know how the engine worked or how the spark plugs worked, but we covered everything."

Upon graduation, his friends chipped in to give him start-up capital and help him rent the shop. Now he nets enough to repay them and pay the rent, with a profit of 50,000 kyat (US$60) a month good money in these parts.

He supports his grandmother and a 10-year-old nephew, and helps out two married sisters as well. His twin brother works for him, watching the shop while he continues his vocational training every afternoon.

He's now back at BAJ, learning how to drive a truck and a car. That's because, even though he's been unable to save any of his monthly take home pay of 10,000 kyats, he has a clear ambition: "One day I will have my own car."

By Kitty McKinsey in Maungdaw, Myanmar




UNHCR country pages


From life-saving aid to help with shelter, health, water, education and more.

Myanmar Cyclone Victims Still Need Aid

With eight relief flights and an earlier truck convoy from nearby Thailand, UNHCR had by June 6, 2008 moved 430 tonnes of shelter and basic household supplies into Myanmar to help as many as 130,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis. The aid includes plastic sheeting, plastic rolls, mosquito nets, blankets and kitchen sets. Once the aid arrives in the country it is quickly distributed.

On the outskirts of the city of Yangon – which was also hit by the cyclone – and in the Irrawady delta, some families have been erecting temporary shelters made out of palm leaf thatching. But they desperately need plastic sheeting to keep out the monsoon rains.

Posted on 12 June 2008

Myanmar Cyclone Victims Still Need Aid

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

Refugees from Myanmar: Ethnic Karens Seek Shelter

Over 2,000 refugees from Myanmar have crossed the border into Thailand in recent months. Most claim to be fleeing renewed conflict and human rights abuses in Kayin state, Myanmar. The mainly ethnic Karen refugees say their houses and villages have been burned and civilians killed. Many were weak upon arrival, suffering from illnesses such as malaria, after a long, dangerous journey to the camps through heavily mined areas. The refugees have been arriving at government-run camps, mainly in the Mae Hong Son area in northern Thailand.

UNHCR is working with the Thai government and non-governmental organisations to ensure the new arrivals are admitted to the camps and provided with adequate shelter and protection. Shelter has been a major issue as the capacity in many refugee camps has been overwhelmed. In a breakthrough in mid-May, Thai authorities agreed to build proper houses for the new arrivals.

There are currently 140,000 refugees from Myanmar living in nine border camps in Thailand, many of them have been there for up to 20 years.

Refugees from Myanmar: Ethnic Karens Seek Shelter

Lebanon: A Tough Winter AheadPlay video

Lebanon: A Tough Winter Ahead

Syrian refugees are bracing for long, cold months ahead. UNHCR and its partners estimate that some 132,000 refugee households (660,000 people) in Lebanon are in need of some kind of assistance during the winter to keep them warm and dry.
Displaced women sew up a future in Kachin campPlay video

Displaced women sew up a future in Kachin camp

Conflict in Myanmar's Kachin state has displaced tens of thousands. In the town of Laiza, UNHCR is helping women in Hpun Lum Yang camp to learn tailoring skills as part of a pilot project to foster cohesion among IDP women in the camp and help them find solutions for the practical problems they and their community face.
Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New OpportunitiesPlay video

Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New Opportunities

UNHCR and partners are training scores of Syrian and Lebanese women in traditional fabric printing – helping to sustain centuries-old techniques and provide livelihoods for refugees and host communities.