By Daniel Krieger
Eh Chirs Hto sits on a sofa in the VIP room at Victoria Hospital in Yangon with her daughter, 16-month old Hnin Thazin Moon. They just got here, having traveled five hours by bus from Padoh, their hometown, to begin the process of fixing her toddler’s cleft lip and palate. At the hospital, where over 100 kids have come with their parents for Alliance For Smiles’ latest mission, fathers are in no short supply. But this little girl’s dad isn’t around. In fact, she doesn’t even know him.
“I didn’t think much about her condition when she was born,” Eh Chirs Hto says, speaking softly to her interpreter in Sgaw, the tongue of the Sgaw Karen people. “Just that maybe it’s her fate.”
Pretty and dressed in traditional garb, Eh Chirs Hto, who is 25, lives with her parents, who are supportive, but “some people look down on her,” she says of her daughter. “The main problem is that we don’t have anyone to give her special care.”
Her husband disappeared without a word three days after her birth and disconnected his phone. “He just left and never contacted us again,” she says. It breaks her heart that her daughter doesn’t have a father to help take care of her, she explains, and is unhappy to have to be supported by her parents.
Meanwhile, Hnin Thazin Moon, sitting comfortably on her mom’s lap, comes across as a cheerful and curious kid, playing with a packet of cookies and keenly watching the adults conduct their business. “She doesn’t know anything about her problem,” she says. “She’s just living her life. But I’m so worried about her nutrition and medicine.”
The struggle to raise her solo can be a great burden sometimes, she says, but she is resigned to her fate and is grateful that AFS, which she heard about from her aunt, can help her daughter.
“People talk about how she was born with a deformity and how her father left her,” she says. “Some people show her sympathy, but when they see her they think she wasn’t born right. But I don’t feel shame about her because it’s natural — she just came out like this.”
“I will take care of her as best I can,” she goes on. “She’s my child, and she’s my responsibility.”