Thant Shin Htun
The sounds of gunfire from heavy fighting between the Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army (AA) are getting closer and closer to Sa-par-htar village in Buthidaung, Rakhine State.
The villagers are preparing to run to the school from the nearby Sey-ti-htaung village to escape the danger to their lives.
When Ma Hla Myat Thu ran fled to the refugee camp, the other villagers brought their valuable belongings with them but brought some sports clothes while holding a ball.
Since she has been living in the village, she has been keen on playing soccer. That is why her surroundings say bad things about the matter as she is a woman who wants to play soccer like a man, but she gets used to those bad words. She always brings some football clothes and soccer everywhere she goes.
Despite the criticism from her environment, she paid no attention to it and has a burning desire to become a successful footballer, which is her dream. Though she had to move from her native location to a refugee camp, her dreams had not changed.
After 3 years of fleeing away from home as a refugee, when she turned 19 years old in 2022, then her dreams indeed came true. She was a member of the Rakhine State Women’s Football Team, which won the regional and state championships under age 25.
The trophy is also the first prize won by a women’s football team from Rakhine State.
“In rural areas, if the girls play soccer people blame and criticize them. However, all family members supported her in her hobby,” her mother explained.
Her life as a football player started over 6 years ago, and at the age of 13, she first got the chance to join the school soccer team in her village, Sa-par-htar, and then played divisional and state-level competition.
“I was picked for the student contest around 2013–14. And then I had to go to Yangon to play football,” she said.
After that, while living with her family in Sa-par-htar Village, she said she was practicing soccer at the village soccer field near her home. Then, because the fighting erupted in March 2019, she had to flee to the affiliated high school, which was, on the one hand, a refugee camp in Sey-ti-taung village.
She continued that she did not quit her football training in the refugee camp and went on to practice on the school’s football field.
“The only thing that I worry about is, there is no field for my football practice. Luckily, as the refugee camp is on the school field, it has become my soccer field,” she said with a laugh.
While she was training in the refugee camp, she said that her teacher, who had arranged for her to play in the student sports event in Buthitaung township, made the connection again, so she was able to play football again.
“I have a teacher in Buthitaung. The teacher just contacted me to play. I played once in state and regional games in 2020,” she explained, explaining how she got the opportunity to play football despite living in a refugee camp.
Ma Hla Myat Thu said that as a young woman, she faced many difficulties and barriers to getting the chance to play football, and the most difficult challenge would be the criticism from neighbors and the village community.
Yet she has 10 family members. She could overcome those challenges and criticism with the support of her family. She has got three elder brothers, two elder sisters, a younger brother, a younger sister, and her parents, so her family members are a total of 10, and she is the sixth.
“There are many difficulties and challenges. All of my family members are encouraging me. My parents are also soccer fans. However, my surroundings criticize me. If I sometimes want to play football, girls are not allowed to play. So, I switch to playing with boys, but I am not allowed to join them. Even in the student’s contest, I had been selected for the competition but I was rejected to play,” she said.
Due to such criticism of her community, her parents supported her and even went along with her when she hit the road to the town where she had to play.
“Above all, my parents trust me on the matter of sports, so they let me go wherever I have to go.” She said, “My mom and Dad sometimes go along with me if I have to.”
A young woman from Waboe village, Sittwe Township, who plays soccer like Ma Hla Myat Thu, faced criticism from her community as well. But after she heard the same story of Ma Hla Myat Thu, then she can overcome such criticism.
Ma Khin Moe Myat Htet, a fellow football player, said that Ma Hla Myat is a very honest and good appearance person. Moreover, she tends to make up her mind about what she wants to be.
“We are best friends and on the same team. We are both somewhat matched as players. Another similarity between us is that we come from the same environment where girls are being fired for playing football. In the rural areas, there is much discrimination taking place against women, especially for things that they should do or they are not allowed to do,” said Ma Khin Moe Htet.
Myat Ma HlaThu’s chief goal is to be a soccer player whom the younger generation emulates. She has the most admirable person and one is the venerable Sayadaw U Uttama and another person is Ma Than Than Htwe, a female athlete, who is a famous person in the sports world.
Ma Than Than Htwe is a selected member of the Myanmar women’s national football team and a midfielder there. She played for the Myanmar women’s football team for around 15 years and retired in 2015 due to her age.
Myat Ma HlaThu has been playing in the region and state level tournament for five years, won the third prize in 2015, and won the gold medal in the 2022 region and state U25 (women) football tournament.
Ma Hla Myat Thu’s favorite job is playing football, and her second favorite is playing cane ball. She explain that because she was strong in sports since she was young, she left her education when she was in high school level.
She is currently practicing football at a sports camp in Nay Pyi Taw and has stated that she is also preparing for regional events as well as the upcoming SEA Games.
“It’s like training in advance for the upcoming SEA Games. I may have other choices, too.” She explained her present situation.
Ma Hla Myat’s family has been relocating to their native Sa-par-htar village from Buthidaung Township’s Sey-ti-taung refugee camp for about a year. Her father is now working in the field, and her mother is trading rice and other things.
She encourages her female peers to set goals for themselves.
“You have to set a goal in your life and think about ” What is your hobby? Which way of life suits you? What are you good at? I want you to make a firm decision about what you are good at and then do it.” She encouraged.
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