Until last week, Soe Soe Khaing was a schoolteacher in Naypyidaw; now she’s fighting to get her job back after being fired for attending an event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Burma’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising earlier this month. In this interview with The Irrawaddy, she explains her current situation, and what she is doing to seek redress.
Question: Last week you were fired for attending an event commemorating the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Do you feel that you violated your school’s rule against involvement in politics?
Answer: No, I don’t think I broke any rules by meeting with members of the 88 Generation Students group. I have a right to do this. By firing me, they are trying to suppress support for the 88 Generation group.
If they are acting with good will, they won’t continue to punish me. A parent shouldn’t punish a child for no reason, and an employer shouldn’t act this way without justification. I have worked as a teacher for 18 years, and I’ve never done anything wrong. I’ve always done my best for my students, and to serve my country. So I believe that I will succeed in overcoming the problems I now face.
Q: Why did you decide to attend the meeting of the 88 Generation Students group in Rangoon?
A: Actually, it was just a coincidence that I was there at that time. I went to Rangoon to borrow some money for my medical treatment. While I was there, a friend suggested that I join a meeting held to prepare for the ’88 uprising Silver Jubilee. I went because it was a historic event.
Q: What kind of difficulties are you facing now that you are unemployed?
A: I am the eldest daughter in my family. My mother is especially sad that I have been unfairly forced to resign from my job even though I didn’t do anything wrong. As I teacher, I didn’t make much money, but I had some dignity. Now I have lost this.
Q: How will this affect your pension?
A: In the letter they sent to me on Aug. 15, they said I am not eligible for a pension because I was “forced to retire”.
Q: What will you do now?
A: I will consult with the 88 Generation Students group and the ABSDF [All Burma Students’ Democratic Front] to seek their advice. Then I will decide what to do next.
Q: Do you feel that the authorities at your school are behaving as if Burma were still under military rule?
A: That’s a good question. Yes, I think they are.
Q: What would you like them to do?
A: I want to get justice because I want to restore my dignity. When they fired me, they robbed me of my dignity. I also want to protect the rights of other teachers who are members of the 88 Generation Students group. We must try to prevent this ever happening to other teachers.