February 2016: Traveling towards a township on a provincial road in Myanmar, I was scanning the roadside scenery for some good photos when I spotted something on the road that I initially did not believe I was seeing. A portion of the road was under repair, a number of workers were busy doing the construction, and they were all women! Not believing my eyes, I asked my companion if this is something normally happening in the country. The answer was yes and all I managed to mutter was “WOW!” before my camera started clicking and our car started to regain speed.
On the way to another place a few days later, I closely watched the road, on the lookout for the admirable women. I managed to make a few clicks and went to bed that night a bit disappointed. I didn’t realize my luck until the next morning when I gazed out from the balcony and almost spilled my coffee because of what I saw. The women construction workers, in their glorious traditional hats and thanaka-covered faces, were assembling right at our parking lot! It turned out that the guesthouse arranged for us was also the headquarters of the local Works Department — the same agency that employs all these women — and the place is used as the assembly area before the workers were brought out to the construction site. And so, remembering the only word I muttered the first time I saw their kind; I christened them WoW for “Women of Works”; and the two splended mornings I woke up in that place became exciting WoW pictorials.
Here’s their story….*
I later learned of the big debate within Myanmar and even in other countries about whether the situation of these women can be considered empowerment or just plain exploitation. There are merits to the argument of both sides but I don’t want to get sucked into the debate. All I know is that, for their families to survive, these women are doing something that their counterparts in most countries can not even imagine doing even if their families go hungry. That, to me, deserves respect. That, to me, is a WOW!
*The photos were taken from various places in the Bago and Yangon regions of Myanmar.