In Myanmar, empowering women is a calling

January 29, 2016

In the nine years that Phyu Phyu Theint has worked for Pact, she has seen a lot of change. 

When she started as a receptionist in our Myanmar office in 2007, about 3,000 women were taking part in Pact WORTH groups in the country. It was a model that was quickly expanding – one that empowers women and girls by bringing them together in groups of 20 to 25 to learn how to save money and start small businesses. They use the savings to make loans to fellow members, and with credit and interest earnings, they grow their businesses and launch new ones.

Today, after several promotions, Theint is a technical coordinator who helps oversee all of Pact’s livelihoods programs in Myanmar, and WORTH has been implemented in more than a dozen countries. In Myanmar alone, more than 50,000 women are now taking part.

“We have grown together – WORTH and me,” says Theint, 33, who is a Myanmar native. “It has been a wonderful experience in so many ways.”

After about a year and a half in the receptionist position – her first job after finishing at a local university – Theint decided to apply to become a WORTH empowerment worker, a field position that involves bringing WORTH to new villages. First, empowerment workers meet with village leaders and organize community workshops to explain how the model works. Once a village decides to take part, empowerment workers help women organize into groups. Next they train the groups and help them select four-member management committees. Empowerment workers revisit groups every two weeks to make sure they’re keeping accurate records and all is running smoothly.

“I loved the challenge of this new job and being in the field to work directly with communities,” Theint says. “I could see for myself the good results the women were accomplishing.”

Theint served as an empowerment worker for three years before becoming a program officer in 2011. In that role, she trained new empowerment workers. In 2014, she became a senior program officer, working to develop and improve WORTH’s curriculum.

She says the hardest part is getting new women to believe in WORTH.

“It is a true empowerment program, so we are not providing them with anything except training and information,” she explains. “Sometimes it is hard for them to believe this is all they need to make such a big change for themselves.”

Now, as a technical coordinator, Theint helps oversee three large Pact programs, all of which use the WORTH model.

“We have expanded it so much,” Theint says of WORTH, “and we are still growing and improving it all the time.”

For all the change Theint has been a part of, she says the difference she's seen in WORTH members’ lives has meant the most.

She recalls one woman in particular, a shy widow and mother of three who was barely scraping by on earnings from a small noodle shop when she decided to join a WORTH group. “She spoke very few words in the beginning and did not have confidence in herself,” Theint remembers.

After about six months, though, the woman was chosen to be her WORTH group’s treasurer. She read every word of the learning materials that Pact provided on saving money and running a successful business, and soon her noodle shop and income grew.

“Now her voice is heard,” Theint says. “She speaks out, and she is confident.”