La Min gathers her family to head to a local festival
Times were tough for La Min (34) and her husband Maung Maung (31) in 2012. They had just given birth to their second boy, and jobs were few and far between. He drove boats on Inle Lake, shuttling people and crops across, while she made and sold papaya salad beside the road through their village of Kaung Daing. As a family, they were barely making ends meet.
So, together, they decided to take a chance. La Min would stop working and go back to school to learn English, with the aim of becoming a tourist guide. It meant that the family would need to sacrifice even more than they had been, relying solely on Maung Maung's income. Their older son would also have to live with his Aunt in nearby Nyaungshwe.
It was a difficult time. Lacking funds, La Min would often sacrifice her food each day just to be able to afford English lessons at a nearby monastery.
The gamble paid off. Two years later, she started work as a guide, making $10-$15 per day. By 2015, she was earning $35 per day during high season, which was almost equivalent to her entire monthly income before. This flexibility allowed Maung Maung to pursue additional education as well, becoming one of only a handful of certified volleyball coaches in the region.
"It was a whole family effort to get here. We are tired, sometimes we have a lot of stress, but we're happy."
The family have now been able to buy new motorcycles and cell phones, and save money for their next big plan. La Min has two younger sisters who live in an orphanage, and she also wants to be able to provide an opportunity for them. So, they are planning to buy a small piece of land and start a guesthouse where the whole family can work and live together. However, it won't be easy.
Land prices around Inle Lake have skyrocketed in recent years, due to big resort companies and foreign interests driving up the cost of land and pricing out the locals.
La Min is up for the challenge.