This afternoon Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK is organising a demonstration in front of the Burmese Embassy in London as part of a global day of action, organised by the US based Burma Task Force.
Demonstrations are also being held in Chicago, Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles and Stockholm. Rohingya organisations in more than 10 European countries are supporting the day of action, along with other organisations including Burma Campaign UK and Burmese Muslim Association UK.
Four months after coming to power, the NLD led government has still not lifted severe restrictions on humanitarian aid delivery in Rakhine State. Government restrictions on aid are causing death and suffering for Rohingya and Kaman people living in squalid camps after being forced from their homes in 2012. Ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya, Kaman and all people in the State suffer because of the restrictions.
Since increased violence and repression in 2012, Rohingya people have faced a worsening humanitarian situation. Restrictions on travel and lack of security have made growing and buying food much more difficult for Rohingya people. Restrictions on international humanitarian assistance to those in IDP Camps and the rest of Arakan State also make the humanitarian crisis much worse.
Since 2012, 140,000 internally displaced people have been trapped in camps which UN officials have described as having some of the worst conditions in the world. These restrictions and lack of security force Rohingya people to make long and sometimes dangerous journeys to find food. More than ten percent of the Rohingya population have fled Burma since 2012.
Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK said "Our people are dying in the camps where they fled to four years ago after they fled mobs burning their homes and villages. They are dying in part because the new government has kept in place severe restrictions on delivery of aid. The NLD-led government should immediately lift all restrictions on international humanitarian aid in Arakan State, and ensure security for aid workers.”
Protestors are also calling on the international community, including the British government, to apply pressure on the NLD led government to lift restrictions on aid. You can add your voice by signing Burma Campaign's petition which calls on the NLD-led government to implement four steps to help end the repression against the Rohingya.
Children on the Edge have supported the plight of the Rohingya for over 5 years, and are currently providing education to refugee Rohingya children living in enclave communities in Bangladesh.
The Dalit people or ‘untouchables’ are India’s lowest caste. Despite being outlawed, the caste system still dictates the order of modern life for millions of people here. The Dalits are shunned by society and suffer from exclusion, discrimination and exploitation. The Musahar are the lowest strata of the Dalit caste.
Government primary schools in Dalit majority areas are scarce, and those that do exist are so poorly staffed and equipped that children rarely attend.
A parent’s perspective
On a recent visit to a Musahar village in Bihar State, one mother named Gita explained to us that, “My children are enrolled in a government school, but the teachers do not teach. They come and take the register in the morning and then leave”.
If they do manage to enrol in schools, Dalit children are frequently discriminated against, being made to sit at the back of the class and restricted from touching or interacting with children of other castes. As a result, those who do make it into school feel isolated and often drop out at an early age.
Gita goes on to say how, “There is lunch given at the school, but, because my children are from a lower caste, they must bring their own dishes and are served last. If the food runs out, lower caste children do not eat. I complained to the teacher about this once, and he threatened to have me beaten”.
Other parents reported that their children do not attend government school as it is too far away and barely functions. Kana, aged 12 explained, “I look after my siblings while my mother works in the fields. My father has died. I cook, clean and do housework. I would like to learn to read and write, and I did enrol at school. But the teachers do not teach at that school”.
A teacher’s perspective
Pramod is the only Musahar teacher on the project. In this culture it is very unusual that he managed to complete up to grade 10 in government school. “I was on the verge of moving to the city to pull rickshaws or find a factory job to support my parents” he explains, “then the opportunity came up for me to be trained to be a teacher in this programme, and I decided I wanted to stay and help other Musahar children become educated”.
Pramod says that most children from his community work in the fields with their parents as the government schools either don’t function or exclude Dalit children. Some children have little choice as the landlords demand both adults and children work for their keep. Rohit, age 13, reports, “The owner of the land we work demands that I collect grass for his cattle. This can take 3-4 hours a day. Right now I do not have time to go to a government school.”
Once inside one of the programme’s classrooms, Pramod describes how Dalit children face additional challenges; “Parents are very supportive of their children receiving education, but learning can be difficult for many of the children as they are often hungry. Many of them only eat once or twice a day and their minds are not accustomed to concentrating on things like school work. They have only known working in the fields”.
Health issues are the next biggest challenge facing Dalit children. Many of the children miss significant time at school because they are sick from poor drinking water or skin rashes. Pramod explains, “If it rains too much the surface water becomes mixed with the well water. The colour turns brown. But we have nothing else to drink. At this time, many of the children become sick”.
How we are helping
Children on the Edge are currently working to bring together three small, active and engaged local partners to provide quality education for Dalit children aged 6-12. Community Learning Centres offer education up to grade 3, which enables children to achieve basic literacy and numeracy as well as provide them a stronger foothold when integrating into mainstream, government schools. The most important element is that the centres are places where the children feel safe and happy, without fear of intimidation, discrimination or abuse.
The Community Learning Centres also serve as hubs for civic activities in the Dalit communities. Each centre hosts a Women’s Self-Help Group which meets weekly to discuss issues facing the community and organise efforts to bring out about change. The centres also maintain a communal library which is open to all adults and children; the literature has a focus on promoting health, hygiene and human rights.
The Hindi name of the centres actually translates as “Education Change Centres”. Varsha Jawalgekar, director of the programme’s rural centres, explains, “The goal of the centres is not just to provide education to children, though that is important. These centres will also bring Dalit people together and change communities from the inside.”
Teachers are trained specifically to adapt to their resource-scare surroundings, using simple, available objects creatively and generously. Trees outside are not only used to provide shade for the classes on hot days, but instructors hang lesson cards from the branches to create numeracy and literacy games. Sticks and rocks are employed as tangible learning aids for maths lessons.
Turning the tide of a system which has discriminated against Dalit castes in Bihar for hundreds of years is not a quick process, yet our local partners have a track record of successfully bringing change to marginalised communities through educating residents and lobbying the government for the provision of rights and services.
Through our efforts Children on the Edge believes there is a real opportunity for this programme to change the lives of thousands of Dalits in Bihar.
Find out more about the project
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If you have been following our work in Uganda you will know that we have currently been focusing on expanding our Child Protection Team model into three new slum areas surrounding Jinja.
We piloted the use of a Community Child Protection Team (CPT) in Masese II slum (Soweto). When we first began working here, children were extremely vulnerable to neglect, abuse and even child sacrifice. Through building relationships with, and training volunteers in the community, piece by piece we were able to support them in the creation of a protective environment for their children.
Setting up the new teams
Motivated by the success of this pilot, we have expanded the work into three new slums surrounding Jinja - Loco, Masese I and Masese III. Our Children on the Edge Africa team have built relationships in each location and in partnership with the community have identified problem areas.
Babra is a social worker for COTE Africa, she describes how “ Our projects are completely owned by the community. They participate from the start. They identify the problems, they identify the solutions. They are a voice for the voiceless and a link between the community and the institutions that can help”.
To begin to address the issues identified in each area, the team facilitated a series of child protection workshops. After four months of workshops, each community elected a team of ten trusted volunteers to act as the eyes and ears of the children. They have begun training, been provided with simple resources and are already beginning to see transformation in the communities they serve.
First steps towards change
Last month our Communications Officer; Esther Smitheram, visited the newly formed teams to learn about the challenges they are facing and how they are finding solutions in many difficult situations where children are at risk.
In Masese I the team are beginning to put their training into practice. They have been encouraging children to attend school instead of loitering, advising a grandmother headed household on caring for an HIV positive child and supporting a bereaved father in caring for his children.
Sissy, the youngest member of CPT here, has already begun to make a difference. She tells how “There is a mother in the area who sells as a job, she leaves early and comes back late. She leaves her 2 year old in the care of an older sibling, but they just leave the small child on its own all day. Each day at dark the little one starts crying. I waited outside her home for the mother to return. I talked with her kindly about the importance of keeping the little one safe, now she makes sure he is never left alone”.
The Masese III CPT are faced with the challenge of sensitising a community with different cultural values. The largest tribe in this area is the Karamojong, a nomadic people group from northern Uganda. Their culture have a ‘hands off’ approach to childcare, and as soon as a child can walk they are left all day while the mothers work.
Godfrey Rucho is the chairperson of the CPT here, he says “They think nothing of this, as this is how they were treated when they were children, they have not gone to school, they don’t value education. Some parents don’t mind where their children spend the night, the children sleep outside, they don’t care if they are safe or not”.
Consequently the area has very high number of street children. The CPT has begun to work alongside these children and their parents. They have built relationships with key people in the tribe, one of whom has become a member of the CPT. They have already been successful in supporting many children to be reunited with their parents and return home.
Godfrey describes how “It used to be if you tried to talk to a parent they said ‘If you’re so concerned then take them’, but we are hoping that with the help of the Karomojong chairperson and a team member who is Karomojong, we can start to talk to more parents about taking care of the children.”
Loco community is one of the poorest areas around Jinja. The new team here talk about many organisations coming in and promising them the world, only to leave a year later with conditions returning to what they were. Edwin Wannabe, Programmes Director at COTE Africa says “We make it very clear from the start that it is the community themselves that can make a change. We promise very little, our role is to serve them. We then explain that we are just an organisation and they know the community more than we do.”
It is this ownership that creates sustainability. In Loco it took time for the community to believe things could be different, but as they identified their own issues and were resourced and trained to deal with them they begin to see things change.
Talking to the CPT in Loco, Esther describes how “Already each team member is full of stories about how they have used their training to intervene in situations of of child neglect, abuse, domestic violence and crime. They are beginning to form an effective link between the community and the police force, protecting vulnerable people from corruption and ensuring cases are dealt with quickly. Loco is already a safer place for children”.
Chizito, the chairperson of the CPT in Loco says 'The people see workshops, they see a team that deals with their problems, they see a drop in domestic violence and crime, they see their children on a playscheme and a new Early Childhood Development Centre being built, and it gives them hope. These things have never happened in Loco. Hope is knowing things can change’.
Watch this space for regular updates about the new teams and their work. As a result of the success of our pilot and the effectiveness of the current work, we will be writing up the Child Protection Teams as a model. The aim is to roll out this work across some of the most vulnerable communities throughout Uganda, especially those with higher reported levels of child sacrifice.