Rakhine workers in Yangon move from tailoring to telecoms

Myanmar’s telecommunications boom is drawing a fresh wave of young workers from Rakhine State to Yangon, with new arrivals opting to sell mobile phones and accessories rather than enter the traditional industries of their predecessors.

Most Yangon-based businesses run by people from Rakhine State are tailors or goldsmiths, said Ma Than Than Win, who moved from Rakhine to Yangon. Many women originally from Rakhine who live in suburban Yangon have opened shops in their living rooms – some combining tailoring with selling traditional Rakhine foods, she added.

Rakhine men who move to Yangon mostly work as goldsmiths, according to U Shay Gyi, who has his own shop. “I opened a gold shop and my wife sells Rakhine snacks in the street bazaar,” he said. “Business is alright for me. We both have jobs, so the situation is not so hard.” At the gold shops, the focus is more on the art of creating and learning a craft than selling, he said.

But U Shay Gyi believes this way of life is endangered. “Many young people who move to Yangon from Rakhine want to sell handsets and phone accessories given the current situation,” he said, referring to Myanmar’s recent telecommunications boom. “Now the youth are opening phone accessories shops.”

Younger Rakhine men are less interested in learning how to make things out of gold, choosing instead to learn how to repair electronic products. Many are learning how to repair mobile handsets and are opening their own shops, said the owner of mobile phone and accessory shop KNK, who moved to Yangon from Rakhine.

“First we opened a repair shop and then we opened a handset accessories shop,” he said. “People are using phones more and more, so we changed our business. We have a big family, so we were able to open two shops. I repair electronics and my younger brother sells and repairs handsets.”

Once arrivals from Rakhine are settled, they often ask relatives back home to come and help grow the business, he said. His family’s newest shop opened earlier this year, he added.

“We used to catch fish in my native town, which was very tiring, and we didn’t make much money. The standard of living was not as good as in Yangon. And here in Yangon, we can learn as much as we want.”

But the older generation still makes a living in more traditional industries. Ma Than Than Win originally moved to downtown Yangon, where she started a tailoring business. But rent was too expensive and competition from large tailor shops too great. Instead, she moved to South Okkalapa township, where there is a community of people from Rakhine and many small tailors’ shops, she said.

“I came to Yangon with my neighbours and we can all sew, so we rented a house and opened a shop. Initially it was difficult because we had no customers and accommodation is very expensive,” she said.

Ma Khin Hnin, who runs another shop and Rakhine food stall in the same area, said, “I sew clothes and my mother sells traditional snacks. The rent is expensive so we work two jobs together.”

Ma Shwe Yee who lives in the same township said, “People who come from Rakhine State in my township sew clothes. I always ask them to make my clothes, because they are very skillful.”

Most Rakhine people who move to Yangon are from Sittwe, but people migrate from across the region – both within Myanmar and to other countries, particularly Thailand, said Ma Khin Thar, owner of Aye Tailor shop in South Okkalapa.

“The destination depends on people’s relations. After one family member has settled somewhere, they call their relations to come and work,” she said. “My sister moved to Yangon, and once she was settled, she called me, so I moved here with my friends.”

In her shop, she added, everyone is from Rakhine State. “If we need another tailor, we call our neighbours back home who need a job. I don’t know how many people have come to Yangon – I come from Sittwe and most of my neighbours have moved away for work.”

A number of local non-government organisations were unable to provide figures on the number of people who have left Rakhine State to seek work in Yangon and elsewhere.

If Rakhine people don’t seek work overseas, their top destination is Yangon, said Ko Kyel Sin, of Thingyangyun township. “Once they moved to open gold and sewing shops,” he said. “But now they have vision, and are looking at opening phone shops, or any number of businesses.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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