As COVID-19 continues to overwhelm certain parts of the world, the task of dealing with those who succumb to the disease falls on brave individuals ready to risk their health, be away from their families and live with death every single day.
In Myanmar, a 13-year-old boy is one of them.
Tun Lin Naing, a seventh grade student, is the youngest volunteer at the Metta Thingaha Free Funeral Aid Association. His parents sent him to the group last December after its founder Min Din agreed to help with his education.
The association operates in Yangon — Myanmar’s largest and most populous city. In the beginning, Tun Lin Naing was assigned to help with administrative duties, but he stepped up to assist others in collecting and transporting bodies of COVID-19 victims when the need arose.
Tun Lin Naing gathers COVID-19 corpses and prepares them for cremation. He admitted being scared at first, but he has since mastered the work.
“When I carried a dead body for the first time, I was afraid, but I am no longer scared because I have carried so many of them,” the 13-year-old told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
Min Din described Tun Lin Naing as a fearless, meticulous and hardworking volunteer.
“He doesn’t fear anything and he’s very careful about wearing the PPE correctly — even better than some of the adults,” the charity leader told RFA. “Most of our volunteers need to take a break for two or three days after carrying bodies for five consecutive days. But this kid never took a break. Even when the death toll is at its highest, he has worked tirelessly.”
As of Aug. 11, Myanmar recorded 341,300 cases of COVID-19. The death toll was 12,452, Xinhua reported.
While battling the pandemic, the Southeast Asian country of 54 million people also finds itself in the middle of a political crisis. On Feb. 1, military leaders seized power from its civilian government and have since persecuted healthcare workers, who happen to be at the forefront of the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Discrimination against ethnic minorities in some parts of the country may also hinder progress. Most recently, Myanmar authorities confirmed that they have no plans of including Rohingya Muslims in receiving COVID-19 vaccinations in the western Rakhine State.
“We are only following orders,” local administrator Kyaw Lwin of the Sittwe township told Reuters. The official, however, declined to comment on whether the plan displayed aspects of discrimination.
Myanmar also deals with rampant poverty, which increased in “dramatic” rates after COVID-19’s second wave that started in Rakhine State around the same time last year. As the country faces a triple threat of political unrest, poverty and its third wave of the virus, its future is a blur.
It is at this time when volunteers like Tun Lin Naing become a symbol of hope. “He has a humanitarian spirit, and he will be blessed for helping others,” his father told RFA.
Tun Lin Naing aspires to become a mechanic in the future. He is the eldest of four siblings.
His parents told RFA that they always worry about his safety, so they try to visit him regularly. The fact that the group’s volunteers take their health very seriously also alleviates their concerns.
At present, Tun Lin Naing spends most of his day at the association’s office and while he’s gotten used to seeing corpses, he’s still affected emotionally.
“I feel sorry for these people and when I see the surviving family members crying,” he told RFA. “These days, it’s something I see quite often.”
Featured Image via Radio Free Asia Burmese