Their villages burned and their families attacked, the Kachin people have been physically pushed to the edge of their country and given no help. Our work here is crucial.
When our staff witnessed first-hand the indiscriminate shelling and burning of civilian villages in Kachin state in 2012, Children on the Edge set out to provide aid to the children who were most affected by the conflict. After an initial survey and a delivery of aid to the hardest to reach areas, we have gone on to establish safe, nurturing environments in seven different camps for 580 internally displaced Kachin children aged 3-6.
This is done through 12 Early Childhood Development Centres in some of northern Burma’s most dangerous and remote Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps. These centres are places with a trusted adult presence where children can receive the building blocks of basic education, access nutritional support, and simply enjoy being a child for several hours each day. In this way the centres play a vital role in helping these displaced children process their harsh surroundings and past experiences.
Constructed primarily from bamboo, ply wood, and tin, the structures are basic, but teachers and students have transformed each centre into a colourful space where the children can learn and express themselves. Supplied with art materials, musical toys, building blocks, sand pits, tire swings and a large collection of story books, the centres are vibrant hubs of activity in the heart of each IDP camp. Each centre blends an organized curriculum, that includes maths, language basics, hygiene, and environmental sciences, with free and organised play activities. Focus group feedback from teachers and parents has already reported an increase in confidence and positivity among the children over the past year.
Community groups which meet monthly in each centre engage with parents to educate them about the principles of early childhood education and discuss issues which children are facing in the broader community. Parents also pitch in to help construct and maintain each building as well as assist with food preparation and logistics for the centres.
This year Children on the Edge will continue to ensure the delivery of winter provisions so the children can survive the harsh, high-altitude weather conditions. A set of warm clothes, which includes a wool hat, jacket, warm trousers and pair of socks, is provided to each child in the IDP camps. As most homes are constructed from thin ply wood, and temperatures regularly plunge below zero, hypothermia is one of the greatest threats faced by young children in these camps.
Children on the Edge are the only international organisation operating in these remote, northern camps.
When our Asia Regional Manager visited last month it took him over 2 days to reach the outlying camps, and he was the first non-Kachin visitor to the area in 3 years. He describes the situation, “We cannot stress enough how little help these people are receiving. They are physically pushed to the edge of their country, teetering on the border in case of attack from forces that have no hesitation in razing villages and harming civilians”.
Living in such locations presents numerous challenges to daily survival. The high altitude makes the digging of wells nearly impossible, so camp residents must rely on surface water to survive. Finding clean surface water often means a trek of several miles and firewood must be sourced outside the camp from considerable distances.
Most families rely on daily labour and subsistence farming in order to make ends meet. In this environment, the support of early childhood care has become vital to these families. By providing care for the community’s youngest children, this programme is also allowing parents to provide food, water, and firewood for their families.
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