The single mother exposing Myanmar junta atrocities while keeping her kids close

Emily video journalist

Emily, a video journalist / Photo from The Irrawaddy. Used with permission.

This article was originally published in The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar. This edited version is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Journalists, like all Myanmar citizens, have faced the harsh consequences of dictatorship since the military unlawfully seized power in 2021. Following the coup, the junta targeted independent news outlets by arresting, jailing, and even killing journalists on fabricated charges.

However, independent news outlets and journalists are still revealing the true situation in Myanmar despite the threats of arrest and death.

Among them are courageous women who continue to report on the country, all while seeking to balance the safety and well-being of their families.

Emily, a mother of two and a seasoned video journalist with 13 years of experience was forced to flee to the Thai border with her family for safety.

Her husband died in the meantime, and she is now struggling with two kids while still working as a journalist. She spoke to the Irrawaddy about her experiences post-coup.

The Irrawaddy (TI): How has the coup affected independent news outlets and journalists like yourself?

Emily: While I always managed to cope in my country, I often feel overwhelmed in Mae Sot due to the challenges faced by undocumented individuals like myself. The language barrier and restrictions on movement make it difficult. I feel trapped here.

My daughter was born during the COVID-19 era and was just one year old when the coup happened, so she has missed out on opportunities to go out and explore. When she turned two, she found herself in a new country in unfamiliar surroundings. Tragically, her father passed away when she was three, just as she was beginning to recognize and bond with him. The series of traumatic events she has endured at such a tender age has undoubtedly been overwhelming for her.

My son faced similar challenges. The Covid era started right as he was about to begin second grade. A year later, the coup occurred, followed by our move to Thailand. Due to frequent police and immigration checks, we had to relocate at least five times. He lost his father during this hard period.

TI: As a mother, how do you cope with these difficulties?

Emily: I am currently working here, and my son is enrolled in second grade. In Myanmar, he would have been in fourth grade at the age of nine, but here he is in second grade at the age of 10. We live in a Thai neighborhood, so we have to be careful; my children are unable to speak loudly or play as freely as they would like. A child’s life should be carefree, joyful, and filled with laughter. Unfortunately, they are forced to live quietly, which deprives them of their rights as children.

Now their father is gone, I am their sole source of support. They have become deeply attached to me, unable to bear being apart. In their eyes, I am not just their mother but also their hero and protector. These challenges we face are a direct result of the coup. Despite my own struggles, I find the strength to persevere for their sake every time I feel overwhelmed.

Many individuals in Mae Sot are facing challenges. Mae Sot can feel confining, like a small box where we all struggle to breathe. There are moments when lifting my spirits seems daunting. It can be a tough process to remind myself that “I am Emily, and Emily is not weak; I am strong.”

As a freelance woman journalist and a widow, I have the responsibility of caring for my children without the support of a babysitter. This means I often have to bring them along, even to interviews, making it challenging to focus on my work while ensuring they remain quiet. This balancing act is especially difficult for mothers in similar situations.

Constant worry for my children’s well-being if I leave them for work adds another layer of stress, making it tough to fully concentrate on my job. These struggles are common among women journalists, whether they work independently or within a team.

TI: How did you mentally prepare yourself to overcome these struggles and challenges?

Emily: If I had chosen to stop working as a journalist when the coup occurred, my family might have had the chance to resettle in a third country. There were multiple opportunities for this to happen. In the second week of February 2021, following the coup, I received a confidential email from an Embassy offering a place for my family, with a deadline of 24 hours for my response. However, I ultimately decided not to take advantage of this opportunity.

I felt it was unjust to support my country from the comfort of another nation while my fellow citizens were risking their lives on the streets during protests. What is the purpose of our revolution if we do not stand together in our homeland? That’s why I declined the opportunity to relocate to a third country. I wanted to remain in my own nation, no matter the challenges. Here, [in Thailand], my children can’t learn to speak English, Chin, and Thai fluently as Burmese is their native language. Above all, I just want to live in Myanmar.

I have been a journalist since graduating and this has been my only career. Journalism is the only profession I know, and despite any challenges I may face, I am committed to continuing as a freelance journalist. This is the path I have chosen and will continue to pursue.

TI: What motivates you to continue working in a job that poses such risks?

Emily: The junta is trying to demolish the ‘fourth estate’ by dismantling news outlets and silencing journalists in an attempt to conceal the truth. It is crucial that we have a strong presence of journalists to expose their atrocities. We must remain steadfast in our pursuit of democracy, as our revolution is far from over. Journalists must persevere in the face of the challenges, refusing to give up. While some may opt for different paths, those of us committed to this cause must continue to stand tall and speak out against injustice.

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