Throughout this year the British government and media have been focussing on the positive changes occurring in Burma. The government also agreed to the suspension of EU sanctions despite none of the benchmarks originally set being fulfilled. These included the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the end of violence in ethnic states, and allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered without hindrance in ethnic states.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office published its Human Rights and Democracy report for 2011 on July 10th. Despite some welcome reforms, the paper describes continuing (and in some ethnic states, worsening) human rights abuses in Burma, including villages been razed to the ground, torture, rape, and the continued use of child soldiers.
Currently on the Thai-Burma border there is increased government discussion regarding Karen refugees being sent back home. Thailand’s National Security Council said last week that refugees from Burma who have been sheltering on Thai soil for more than two decades could return within a year.
Despite this statement, and the growing representation in the media that as things are ‘improving’ in Burma, the situation on the ground remains precarious. Ceasefires are still fragile and do not yet include an enforceable code of conduct; troops still reside in local villages, and although the security council claims to be clearing them, the ground is still littered with land mines. A spokeswoman from the Karen Community Based Organisations (KCBO’s) stated that “We hope that we can go home one day soon, but it is just not possible under the current conditions in Karen areas.”
This is especially poignant for the children at our Children's Crisis Centre in Thailand, the majority of whom are Karen refugees, and also those at our Nursery Schools inside Burma. While the situation in Karen state remains unstable a report recently published by Human Rights Watch details the difficult plight of Burmese refugees in Thailand. Ad Hoc and Inadequate: Thailand’s Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers describes how “Thailand presents Burmese refugees with the unfair choice of stagnating for years in remote refugee camps or living and working outside the camps without protection from arrest and deportation”.
To be separated from parents in this environment is extremely dangerous for refugee children, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation. Our Crisis Centre gives 72 children support, shelter, education and nutrition until a time when they can be re-united with family. For the Karen child refugees in the Ei Htu Hta refugee camp, there is a high risk of malnutrition. Our Nursery Schools give not only vital early years education, but a nutritious meal each day to 300 displaced children under 5 years of age.
We welcome news of positive reforms, but acknowledge that there is still a long way to go before Karen State is stable enough to provide a safe homecoming for these people. Until such a time, our projects in this area will continue to enable children enduring these circumstances to find a place of safety, where their needs can be met, their potential kindled and their sense of childhood protected.
Find out more about our Children’s Crisis Centre on the Thai-Burma border, our Nursery Schools in Karen State Burma and consider donating to our work.
Montezuma’s Chocolates have raised a whopping £1250 for our Learning Centres in their fun packed charity week.
Last week every Montezuma’s store across the country hosted a week of activities to raise money for Children on the Edge. Each day had a different challenge including ‘Guess the number of Giant Buttons in the jar’, ‘Guess the weight of cocoa beans Montezuma’s uses in a year’, ‘Guess the flavour’ of a new and interesting bar sent to each store and two grand raffles, one for a chocolate filled Montezuma’s hamper and one for an exclusive factory tour and chocolate making session.
The most exciting challenge was the ‘Design a Bar’ challenge, where customers could get creative and dream up their own flavour of bar. Each store had a winning customer who received a kilo of chocolate made using their winning idea, with each flavour being considered for launch as a limited edition product. In addition to the challenges the stores sold scrumptious chocolate dipped strawberries with the money going to the our projects. Naturally these went down very well with customers!
Montezuma’s are currently raising money which goes specifically towards our Learning Centres for working children in Bangladesh. These have been set up to give 600 working children a place to come each afternoon for education, nutrition and a chance to play and rest for a few hours.
The amount raised by the Montezuma's stores, head office and from their online customers will pay the rent for two of these Centres for an entire year, giving a place for 400 children to get an education that would have otherwise been impossible.
Montezuma’s Chocolates are also a main sponsor for The Chichester Half Marathon, happening on October 14th. There are still running spaces for the race which promises to be a great event and will raise money for our work.
We'd like to say a huge thank you to Montezuma's Chocolates for their hard work and generosity this week