Last December, the Lebanese military entered one of the refugee camps where we were supporting work with Syrian refugee children. They ordered an evacuation, giving camp dwellers a week to take down their tents and leave. They did this in many camps along the sightline of the Lebanese Syrian border-point because of a potential terrorist presence. This meant there was no alternative camp for refugees to move to in the area, so we supported our partners to find new land and build their own camp for refugees.
During this eviction period, as families were trying to come up with plans for where to move, our local partners took all the children that were being evicted on a field trip. They thought it would do them good to be distracted, especially as they sensed many of them were feeling anxious about the military returning. When the military showed up the first time they intentionally intimidated the Syrians: they came in their full attire, brought their tanks and weapons, and threatened to run over the tents with their tanks if the Syrians weren’t gone in a week.
Our partners gathered the children and took them to land owned by a local convent, which has some beautiful grounds. Here they could run around, wade in the lake, and enjoy the fall leaves and vineyards. The trip was incredibly successful and the children were talking about it for weeks after, showing their parents photos, with their minds distracted from their current situation.
They also used the trip to start conversations about how, together, they could shape their future home so that it has some of the beautiful elements of the gardens they visited. It was a great opportunity to talk to them about the power they have to care for their environment, cultivate it, and enjoy it. They also to discussed how their choices make a difference, how even small, simple things can have big impact. This could be avoiding littering, or starting a small garden next to their tents.
When the new camp began to be built, teachers and students were encouraged to be a part of the moving process: brainstorming ideas and dreams for the future plot of land, involving the adults and older children in the building. One teacher described how “I really like that we teach the children to make conclusions instead of pointing everything out to them.” The conclusions the children reached about the new camp, was that they would love some gardens, they wanted a clean, safe area and most of all, a playground!
A year later and all this is a reality. The new camp is the only settlement in the area with tents spaced strategically to allow access for services. Other camps tend to end up as a maze like sprawl of tents , there is electricity for light and safety and all the residents are part of a cooperative where they influence the running of the day to day life.
Nuna Matar, who heads up the work in the camp says of the new playground “The children are using it to the full! For the children, having their own space where adults have no business being in has proven to be very beneficial”. Alongside the provision of education in the camp, creating a child friendly environment with colour and play as a central part of life is crucial for children who have experienced trauma to gain a sense of security and normalcy.
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As a new wave of violence against the Rohingya emerges, our work with refugees is more crucial than ever.
For over 5 years now Children on the Edge have been working with Rohingya refugee children in the makeshift camps of Bangladesh. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in Rakhine State, Myanmar who are widely considered the most persecuted group in the world.
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 Myanmar.
To escape this treatment, they make perilous journeys at sea or flee across the borders, often to countries that are already impoverished and over populated. Bangladesh is now hosting around 400,000 Rohingya people and despite the recent surge of violence in Myanmar, are currently turning them away.
In the last month there has been an additional surge of violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar, and a UN official has stated that the agenda fuelling it is ethnic cleansing. Some 30,000 Rohingya have fled their homes in the last month and an analysis of satellite images by Human Rights Watch has shown that hundreds of buildings in Rohingya villages have been razed. Claims of gang rape, torture and murder are adding to the crimes against humanity endured by this people group.
Conditions for those that have made it across the border are poor and children have no opportunity for education. Official refugee camps are at capacity, overspilling into illegal makeshift camps. Movement is restricted and refugees have no permission to work outside the camps. They are often subject to attacks and persecution from locals who resent the refugee community.
Children on the Edge work in the largest makeshift refugee camp in Bangladesh providing low profile primary education for Rohingya children in the camp. We operate 45 classrooms within the camp, enabling 2,700 children to gain a full primary education. All children follow a government recognised curriculum and take exams, ensuring that their education is officially recognised in Bangladesh, despite their migrant status.
Without this provision there is a chance a whole generation of Rohingya will grow up unable to read or write, the latest wave of violence has tripled the amount of refugees coming into the areas we are working and the need is greater than ever. We are actively looking for support and funding for this vital work. Please get in touch if you think you can help with funding, or think about making a donation.
We started out our work in Uganda supporting a pilot Child Protection Team project in Masese II slum (known as Soweto). After 5 years the Masese II Child Protection Team (CPT) has genuinely transformed a community and is still going strong.
These ten volunteers have toppled illegal breweries and created alternative, positive livelihoods to get children to school, they have eradicated the occurrences of child sacrifice, they have instigated community action on sanitation and hygiene to create a clean and cared for area. They have also reduced domestic violence, substance misuse and child abuse.
The team are now independent, with only occasional input and encouragement needed from Children on the Edge staff. Not only this but they are sharing their experiences as we scale up this work into the wider district.
Babra, a social worker at Children on the Edge Africa says “I am proud of the CPT in Masese II, they do all the work with very little resources, they get on all by themselves, they refer cases and do follow ups themselves, they even do their own fundraising. They work so well even though they are not paid because it is from their hearts that they want to change the community. It’s like having a child and seeing them develop. I pray that the new communities will be the same. We can’t go in as Children on the Edge and change the whole community, but we can work with local people to change their own community”.
To help ensure that the new teams do just this, they meet regularly with the original team to learn from their experiences, share stories and develop ideas. Programme Director Edwin says “This helps them understand they are not alone in the fight against child abuse”.
In time, we are planning to scale up this tried and tested model across Uganda to help vulnerable communities create protective environments for their children. The team has been greatly effective in eradicating cases of child sacrifice, but sadly success in one community usually means the perpetrators move on to other vulnerable areas to prey on their children.
Identifying areas that are particularly vulnerable to child sacrifice, the team have written up the CPT model to enable new communities to benefit from 5 years of learning when forming their own CPTs.
Alongside the scaling up of the CPT model at grassroots level, there is need for effective national legislation where perpetrators are brought to justice. The two approaches work hand in hand. Children on the Edge are currently working with the Ugandan Children’s Rights NGO Network (UCRNN) to support the passing of a specific Bill addressing child sacrifice and current gaps in legislation.
With a change in the law and the corresponding scaling up of child protection at community level. It is hoped that this practice will be tackled head on and communities will be resourced to create safer environments for their children.
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