International Mother Language Day - ‘Why learning in their own language is vital for Syrian refugee children’
International Mother Language Day has been observed by the United Nations every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The date represents a day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.
The work we support for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon has a specific focus on ensuring children can learn in their own language. Children in the tent schools set up in Bekaa Valley refugee camps are taught in Syrian Arabic by Syrian teachers. This is key to help them recover from trauma and to help them to re engage with learning, making education materials familiar and easy to understand.
Learning in mother tongue language facilitates access to education, while promoting fairness for population groups that speak minority or indigenous languages, in particular girls and women. It also raises the quality of education and learning by focussing on understanding and creativity, rather than on rote and memorisation.
Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. For the children we working with, continuing to learn in their own language with a Syrian curriculum is crucial to retaining a sense of self and knowing their own identity and history. As time passes in the camps the children can easily become disconnected to their home.
Schools Co-ordinator Nadine Morcos says “The teachers here speak the same dialect of Arabic as their students (often they're from the same or the neighbouring camp as the children), they get their culture, so nothing gets by them. The teachers are motivated to learn, motivated to be useful, and motivated to be a changing force in their communities.”
All the Syrian refugees we speak to in the camps say that all they want is to go home and to help rebuild their country. They see their situation as temporary, so having their children learning in Syrian is the most logical solution for them. They want to ensure that their children are educated for their own future and wellbeing, but also with the hope that in the future they are able to help Syria to get back on its feet.
Read more about our work in Lebanon.
Today is World Day of Social Justice. In 2007, The UN General Assembly proclaimed 20 February as a day to promote social justice activities. The UN define social justice as an ‘underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations’.
They describe how ‘We uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.’
Today Children on the Edge are promoting the work we support in Bihar State, India, helping Dalit communities to remove the barriers they face due to caste discrimination and fight for social justice. Despite the fact that discrimination based on caste was outlawed by India’s constitution in 1950, the practice of ‘untouchability’ still dictates the order of modern life for millions here. The caste system assigns individuals a certain status according to Hindu beliefs. Traditionally there are four castes (divided into thousands of sub-categories) and a fifth category of people who fall outside of the system - the Dalits.
The word Dalit translates as ‘oppressed’ or ‘broken’ and is generally used to refer to people who were once known as ‘untouchables’ because of the impurity connected with their traditional ‘outcaste’ occupations. The resulting persecution, discrimination and poverty leaves Dalit children extremely vulnerable.
Working with two partner organisations, Children on the Edge are supporting education for Dalit children and their communities in Bihar State, not just for education’s sake, but to begin to break the cycle of discrimination.
Varsha Bela heads up the work of Parivartan Kendra (PK) in the rural Dalit communities of Vaishali District, Bihar. She describes the vision she has for her work as: “Bringing change in the lives of Dalit children through the transformation of communities on the edge”. In the urban area of Patna, Sister Veena and her organisation Narjeevan Educational and Social Welfare Society (NESWS) shares this vision and between them they facilitate 25 Community and Education Centres in the urban slums and rural villages.
The discrimination they are fighting in Bihar is very real. Veena describes the experiences of the Dalit community she works with; ‘In the village their houses are kept away from other houses, and in the city they are ghettoised. There are no toilets in their houses, or even a community toilet so they are forced to go in the open, on land they do not own, so they are chased away. There is a lack of clean drinking water facilities for the Dalits, in one slum 150 families use two hand pumps. The man next to this slum does not allow their water to flow through his land to the river, so the dirty water remains in the slum and creates sickness and filth. If I go with Dalit staff or friends to someone’s house they are nervous as they know they will not be welcomed in. They will not be be offered food or able to use the glasses or plates of other castes, if they touch these things, the owner will throw them away”.
The model our partners are working with to bring change has three components. First they set up Community Resource Centres, where Dalit people can join together and ‘feel the strength of their unity’. Through the establishment of women’s groups attached to each centre, people are trained about their entitlements and about the use of non-violent dialogue and actions to achieve their rights. They are also supported in a practical sense (i.e obtaining ID papers which qualify them for their entitlements, but are often missing and hard to access because of illiteracy, migration and landlessness).
As government primary schools are currently discriminating against Dalit children, the second component is to use the Community Resource Centres to facilitate education for children. Each afternoon, alongside basic maths, science and languages, 25 classes learn about many issues relating to caste discrimination, local governance, gender equality, human rights and self expression.
Varsha describes how “We teach children from the Dalit community that you have equal rights to any citizen in this country. We focus on the Indian Constitution which gives us fundamental rights and does not allow anyone to be treated according to their caste, class, religion, place of birth or sex. The implementation of the law is very poor though, and knowledge and use of it is very low due to lack of education. This is what we can change”.
Lastly comes action. In response to their training the community focus on realising their rights to a life with dignity, and all that entails. So far the women’s groups in the area, through peaceful protest and dialogue, have successfully fought for land rights, food entitlement, access to school and even the return of trafficked children.
Between them these two organisations are educating 800 Dalit children, who are beginning to realise their worth and be equipped to fight for the equal opportunities they deserve in the future. “This is a sustainable model of change” says Varsha, “it ensures Dalit children will get their rights in the future. If they grow up thinking they are nothing, then they will expect nothing in life. Education is the start of this change.”
Find out more about Social Justice Day
Read about our work with Dalit children in Bihar State
Urge the Indian government to end discrimination against Dalits.
The Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centre we support in Loco, Uganda has been running for a few terms and the children have settled in well. Looking to the future for the current class, the team here facilitated a training day which focussed on ensuring the children’s smooth integration into government primary school.
The day consisted of training for both the teachers at the Centre and the teachers from the neighbouring primary school with which they are partnered. They worked together, looking at strategies for increasing retention and enrolment and effectively preparing young ones for the transition to primary.
Programme Director Edwin Wanabe said “We are giving the children a foundation so they are ready to integrate. The teachers at the ECD Centre are being trained in the primary curriculum so they have the knowledge to manage this transition and ensure the continuing education of the children when they finish their time at the Centre”.
Over the first few terms the ECD teachers have worked to identify which language is most commonly used amongst the new intake. After establishing that the main language used by the children in Loco is Lasuga, they spent some time throughout the day translating all the lessons into this language. They prepared staff in both the Centre and the primary school to be able to teach in this language for the majority of lessons and activities.
Finally, they all worked on creating educational resources out of local materials like sticks, stones and boxes. Using these materials is a low cost and sustainable way of creating a stock of colourful, child friendly resources for the next few terms.
A school management committee, overseen by Doreen from Children on the Edge Africa has been established to focus on the continuing partnership and integration between the ECD Centre and the primary school.
Find out more about the work in Uganda and consider a donation to the project.
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A fun packed celebration day has recently been held at the Early Childhood Development Centre we support in Loco, Uganda. The day was focussed on showing all the parents just how far the children have come in this short time. It gave the children a chance to show off their talents, but also gave the staff the opportunity to deliver some valuable training on positive parenting.
The children enjoyed performing dances, reciting poems and rhymes and singing songs, all of which they have learnt during their time at the Centre. Once this was done, they enjoyed some fun activities while the staff delivered parenting sessions together with the local Child and Family Protection Officer.
This event was the first of its kind in the community and a great way for the team to begin to assess their impact. Parents engaged well and developed a thorough understanding of their roles and responsibilities in ensuring their children get the most out of attending the Centre.
Going on from here the parents will be fully participating in looking after the school. They will be helping with sports days, music events and festivals in the weeks and months to come. At the end of every year, parent and teachers will meet together to plan targets and assessments for the following year.
Programme Director, Edwin Wanabe said ‘It is vital that all the parents have ownership of the Centre right from the start. This is not our project, it is theirs, and it is them that will make sure that their children enjoy their education to the full. The parents were amazed at the talent they could see in their children, this inspires them to give their time and commitment to the Centre’.
Find out more about the work in Uganda and consider a donation to the project.
Thousands of internally displaced people from Kachin State are facing freezing temperatures in the remote mountain areas where they have built settlements.
Surviving the cold at these high altitudes has become unbearable and our local partners have recently responded by distributing warm clothes such as trousers, coats, hats, socks and boots to each child and teacher at all of the 14 Early Childhood Development Centres we support here.
There were 534 sets of warmth clothes distributed in total, procured from Chinese markets on the other side of the border.
One grandmother of a child who received a set of clothes said, “My grandchild has been asking for socks and warm clothes since the winter advanced last month, but I could not afford to get any for him, and I felt extremely bad as he is in dire need of warm clothes. I am very thankful for your kind help on behalf of my grandchild, he is happy and feels secure now, and your assistance is very useful to us as you provide in a time of extreme need.”
Find out more about the education we provide for Kachin children in Burma.
On Saturday 6th February, staff members Ben and Eloise travelled up to Telford, with two amazing volunteers, Jill and Helen, for The Body Shop At Home™️ February Conference. Here we raised a record breaking £16,000 in just one day!
Thank you so much to everyone who helped make this happen; this money will go such a long way to help support our work in Uganda and beyond.
The Body Shop®️ are a big part of Children on the Edge's history. The late Dame Anita Roddick founded Children on the Edge in 1990, after witnessing the appalling conditions in Romanian orphanages. Today, more than 25 years later, we are proud and humbled by the continual support from The Body Shop®️ around the world.
The Body Shop At Home™️ are a huge part of that support, and their incredible consultants and staff do not stop in their efforts to support Children on the Edge. Twice a year, we get to meet these wonderful fundraisers in Telford, at their bi-annual Conference. This February was no different, and our team from Chichester went up to sell Goody Bags with products generously donated by Revolution in Kindness (formerly The Body Shop Foundation), and raffle tickets with the help of our 'Champions' for Children on the Edge. As a result, we raised a whopping £16,000 for our work with vulnerable children around the world.
This total is more than we have ever raised at one if these Conference's before, and all the team at Children on the Edge are completely blown away by the generosity and support of The Body Shop At Home™️ staff and consultants, plus those at The Body Shop®️ UK and Revolution in Kindness (formerly The Body Shop Foundation). Thank you so much.
Not only that, Consultants broke records too! Through raffles, party sales, challenge events and countless other fundraising ideas; regional The Body Shop At Home™️ teams fundraise throughout the year for Children on the Edge. This year 7 out of 10 regions hit their fundraising targets, and overall, the teams from across the UK raised a phenomenal £83,898.....£13 898 above their target! Our Executive Director, Ben was thrilled to announce this incredible achievement to the teams on the day. We can't wait to see what the Consultants can do in 2017 and we've set an ambitious fundraising target of £85, 000. We're confident they can reach it!
Supporting our work in Uganda
A popular part of the Conference is when Children on the Edge get to update on our work and how all the money raised through The Body Shop At Home™️ goes to help our work with vulnerable children abroad.
Just a year ago, Ben had just returned from Uganda, where he visited Loco slum. He saw the desperate conditions and spoke to the people who lived there; who had no hope for a better future. Domestic violence was rife, and conditions, especially for children, were appalling. Last February, we asked the Body Shop At Home™️ to help us do something about it.
What a difference a year makes
Just a year later, thanks to their support, so much has changed in Loco for the better. Our Child Protection Teams have been training people on abuse, parenting, crime, human rights and many other issues. Domestic violence has now dropped dramatically.
Bikes and loudspeakers have been distributed to enable the Child Protection Teams reach help quickly, report emergencies to the police and alert the community of anyone posing a threat to children. In September, we opened a new Early Childhood Development Centre to help educate some of the most vulnerable young children. This has proved a huge success in just a few months of opening.
We told the conference about Daniel and his mother Annet. A year ago, Daniel and his siblings couldn't go to school. They had to go 'picking' for scraps and plastic everyday to try and find enough to sell. But after Children on the Edge gave his mother Annet, a loan of around £20, she has been able to set up a business selling fish; earning her and her family around £2 a day. Daniel and his siblings no longer have to go 'picking' and can go to school. He says "I am happy as a child and for that, I thank everyone". His mother Annet says "What gives me hope is that the community children are going to school. They are the next generation so at the end of it all their foundation will be a firm one".
With the support, kindness and generosity of The Body Shop At Home™️ , we have been able to do so much to transform the lives of the people living in Loco over the past year. But there is so much more we want to do. Our focus for the next year will be on education. Will you help us?
If you're a The Body Shop At Home™️ Consultant and want some help with fundraising ideas, please get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01243 538530.
If you'd like to make a one-off or regular donation to support our work, please donate here.
Grace and Norah are twin sisters, aged four, born prematurely to a single mother in Loco slum, Uganda
Loco is a small village near Jinja, Uganda, formed of barrack blocks that were formally owned by the railway corporation for their workers. The area has poor sanitation with latrines overflowing into the streets. Income poverty has left children prone to exploitation, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse and a high likelihood of ending up living on the streets.
There is one primary school, but parents and carers cannot afford the fees. When we spoke to Grace and Norah’s mother a year ago, there was no hope of education or support for her children. She said she had given up on life. She is HIV positive, and the girl’s father left when he saw they were twins. Never having had twins in his family, he believed that they couldn’t be his and abandoned them for another woman. After giving birth Grace and Norah’s mother was bed ridden for some time and had no one to help. She also developed a skin rash, which later prevented her from getting a job as people believed it might be contagious.
Through our local Child Protection Team, Children on the Edge have supported the building of a new Early Childhood Development Centre, designed to provide early years education in a safe, child friendly environment for the most vulnerable young children in Loco. Grace and Norah were among the first children to enrol.
Despite being twins, these girls could not be more different. At the start of term Grace was very shy, and preferred to spend time alone rather than playing with friends. She would cry every time her mother said it was time for school. Teachers at the centre worked closely with her mother and helped her encourage Grace. They focussed on allowing her to learn at her own pace. When the uniforms were given out they were sure to give Grace hers first to make her feel special. Soon after Grace began to enjoy time with friends and to learn at an rapid rate. She loves school so much now that she wakes early each morning to remind her mother to get ready!
Norah settled in much faster than Grace as she is naturally bubbly and outgoing. She had never been given any guidelines on how to interact with others, so her confidence had a tendency to run overboard. This resulted in many occasions of Norah threatening her classmates, fighting her sister and friends, hiding other children’s shoes in the grass or taking their lunch if she finished hers first!
Noticing how different she was from her sister, the teachers let her learn in a way that was suited to her personality. They engaged her interest and curiosity, channeling all that energy into learning and exploring new subjects. This was a turning point for Norah who now listens attentively to the teachers and treats her friends and her sister kindly.
Grace and Norah’s mother says “At home the girls no longer fight but watch over each other when playing. It’s amazing to see such change in the short time since they were registered at the school. Seeing this change in my girls makes me certain that the future for Loco children is bright since the Centre settled at the heart of the village”.
Find out more about the project in Uganda and please consider either a one off donation or providing longer term support by becoming one of our monthly supporters.
Over 65,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Burma's Rakhine state since soldiers began intensive ‘counter-terrorism’ operations there in October. The level of human rights abuses has rocketed with countless reports of killings, rape, beatings and arson.
Tens of thousands have fled over the border to Bangladesh into the unofficial refugee camps, but the host communities are refugees themselves who have little to offer in terms of food and shelter.
For over 5 years now Children on the Edge have been working with Rohingya refugee children in the makeshift camps of Bangladesh. We provide education to 2,700 children in a safe place, with a child friendly approach and trusted adult presence.
The current surge of refugees into the camp that we work in has transformed a landscape already densely packed with sprawling makeshift shelters. The UN tracked about 22,000 arrivals in just one week, but those working locally estimate the number to be far higher.
John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager visited the camp last week and has reported that “The level of desperation is palpable. Not only is the physical landscape changing as dozens of bamboo, plastic, mud and stick huts are built each day, but there are lines of women and elderly people sat along the main road begging, in an area that is already resource scarce. I have been coming here over 5 years now and never seen this before”.
Since their government passed the 1982 Citizenship Act, the Rohingya people have been denied access to citizenship and subjected to grave human rights abuses at the hands of the authorities and local population in Burma. For years, to escape this treatment, they have made perilous journeys at sea or fled across the borders, often to countries who, due to their own levels of poverty and overpopulation, do not welcome them.
The Rohingya community we work with have faced ongoing attacks and vandalism at the hands of a resentful local community, but the latest influx of refugees has prompted a different reaction. John describes how “There is a softening in the wider community, and local violence towards the Rohingya is subsiding as it is dawning on people that these are not ‘migrants’, they are refugees fleeing from serious systemised abuse. This is clear from the sheer numbers of people entering the camps, but also the visible level of abuse that these people have suffered. Families are arriving injured and bleeding, some without clothes, many in grief having witnessed the death of loved ones, this is not something you can ignore”.
Whilst in 2012 the persecution and abuse of the Rohingya came from from Buddhist militias that were backed by, but not overtly connected to the Burma government, the current atrocities are being perpetrated by organised soldiers in official uniform.
The schools facilitated by Children on the Edge are already at capacity, but the current focus is working with those children to create an atmosphere of safety and familiarity. Teachers are trained from within the camps, and given specific guidance on supporting children living through trauma.
In the face of everything they have witnessed this year the children are making great progress in their education. In our recent evaluation of the programme 92% of children in the schools exhibited signs of increased confidence and positive self-esteem.
We are continuing to invest in this work and are actively pursuing funds for the schools to ensure their sustainability, deliver high quality education and provide a protective environment for these children. If you would like to find out more about supporting these schools at this crucial time, then please read our project page, consider an online donation, or get in touch.
‘Do not allow child marriage in special cases’ - Civil society rally in Bangladesh to prevent backwards steps.
Despite signs of progress, UNICEF states in its latest report that Bangladesh continues to have one of the highest child marriage rates worldwide and the highest rate of marriage involving girls under 15. 52% of girls are married by their 18th birthday, and 18% by the age of 15.
Children on the Edge work with our local partners MUKTI in Cox’s Bazar, who over the past five years have intervened in about 20 child marriage cases in the communities where they work. In almost all these instances, through regular parents meetings and community engagement, we have been able to support the prevention of child marriages.
Bimal from MUKTI describes how “It is difficult to stop these cases from coming up as their cause is often rooted in deep-seated poverty, rather than a lack of education. Until the issues of poverty are addressed, child marriage will continue to be a threat for this generation.”
With poverty as a driver, it is a continuing challenge to encourage normative change where age of marriage is concerned. Reshmi is 14 years old and lives in Kutubdiapara slum. She says "I was behind in school but my relatives said it was not important, my neighbours said that it won’t help me to marry. One day, my mother told me I don’t need to go to school because I am now older. I got very upset and stopped regularly attending school, but a few days later I was surprised when she asked me if I wanted to read more.
It turned out she had already arranged my marriage, but that week had gone to a parents meeting with the MUKTI school. They had told her about child marriage and the risks it has for my body and my children. My mother changed her mind, she said “I cannot destroy my daughter’s life. There are so many families who don’t think like me, but I don’t care”. Now I am going to school again and not afraid of being married without my knowledge”.
In this climate it is an uphill struggle to bring such change, and the work of our partners could be further jeopardised by a potential backward step from the Bangladeshi Parliament. In the coming weeks, Parliament will be considering their Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016 which includes a special provision allowing marriage, with parental consent and judicial consent, for girls under 18 in ‘special cases’ or for ‘the greater good of the adolescent’.
The provision does not define a minimum age of marriage, what these special cases are or what the ‘greater good’ is, leaving these areas open to interpretation and abuse. Children on the Edge are part of the Girls Not Brides Network who argue that ‘…if the provision is included in the final act it would mark a step backwards for a country which has made significant strides towards ending child marriage over recent years’. It has also been argued by those working against child marriage both in Bangladesh and in the UK that, if the UK is going to the lead the way on this issue, then it too needs to adjust the double standards in its own laws.
On the 17th January, civil society organisations in Bangladesh rallied at the Central Shahid Minar, to protest against the inclusion of this special provision. A large number of development workers, social activists, doctors, lawyers, cultural activists, teachers, youth, girls and parents all took part to make the case.
Rachel Bentley, International Director at Children on the Edge says “Our partners work hand in hand with government organisations to address child marriage through their schools. They need the support of a firm legislative framework, prohibiting exceptions in order to continue protecting young women and girls in their communities”.
Find out more about the Child Marriage Restraint Act
Read about our work in Bangladesh and consider a donation.
Ask Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to lead the world on tackling child marriage.
Winter in Syria can be bitter, with extended periods of snow and temperatures below zero. Many families who have fled their homes because of the conflict, and those in villages affected by conflict are living without enough clothing, fuel or food to survive.
The partners we work with in Lebanon are currently making trips across the Syrian border to the Eastern suburbs of Damascus to provide food and fuel to 160 internally displaced families enduring freezing conditions. Our partners have found many more families in need - more that they can currently help - and they would like to do more.
If you'd like support this work, you can make a donation to help a Syrian family. We will make sure this money goes directly to help Syrian families survive the winter.
Nuna Matar who leads the project describes how ”Each person, each family is a living tragedy. Many have lost wives, husbands and children to torture, rape, and death”. The team there have identified a large number of unaccompanied street children who they would like to provide support for, if they can secure funding in the coming weeks.
Nuna goes on to say “We are seeing first hand the tragedy in the Damascus area where a main spring in the wadi Barada area that supplies water to the capital city was targeted by rebels and was damaged, leaving 4 million people in Damascus without water. On top of that Damascus is accusing rebels of polluting water supplies with diesel and water authority has cut supplies to Syrian capital”.
Recently a small group of friends who support Children on the Edge clubbed together to support a Syrian family by donating enough money to pay for fuel and heating each month.
They said “It’s just a simple way that we felt we could make a difference, without going through a lot of bureaucracy. We know our support is going direct to families that need it, through a small local organisation that is responding directly and quickly to the current need".
It costs just £40 to provide a Syrian family with enough food to survive, and fuel to keep warm, for a month.
If you feel you, or a group you are part of, would like to make a donation to help a Syrian family through the winter, then please make a one-off, or regular donation here.