Children on the Edge are focussing on long term provision for Rohingya refugee children in the border camps of Bangladesh.
Described by the UN as ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’, brutal attacks by the Myanmar military in August 2017 forced over 700,000 Rohingya civilians over the border into Bangladesh. The majority of these arrived directly into the areas where we have been providing refugee education since 2011.
After delivering an initial humanitarian response, our main concern over the next few years is that children have consistent support, long after the current surge of attention subsides. Already, many of the agencies that arrived after the crisis hit the headlines, are beginning to withdraw.
Children make up 50% of the Rohingya refugee community here, and an estimated 625,000 children lack access to learning opportunities. New arrivals are living in highly congested areas (around 8m sq/person) and are susceptible to disease and malnutrition.
In addition to the daily stressors of displacement, children have suffered profound trauma and with little access to safe, child friendly facilities, face serious protection risks including abuse, child marriage, trafficking and child labour.
This month, we have begun the construction of 150 classrooms; within 75 new Learning Centres in the Kutupalong camp. Over the last few weeks, 10 Centres have been built and opened to groups of children. Through two shifts a day, children have the opportunity to learn basic language skills, reading, writing and arithmetic.
Bangladeshi and Rohingya facilitators are being trained in dealing with trauma in children, and how to create a welcoming, safe environment. Each space is a bright, colourful haven, with a focus on art, play and self expression. In time, we will be creating vibrant ‘green spaces’ outside each one through pot gardening, to create an oasis feel within the arid landscape of the camps.
The Centres will also serve as a hub for community learning in areas like First Aid skills and the use of gas stoves. They are semi-permanent structures, to enable durability against the rains (deep concrete floors), whilst maintaining flexibility on location, should the refugee population move on elsewhere.
Watch this space to read more about the progress of these Centres, and consider signing up as a regular donor to provide steady support for this work going forward. You can also read about how we are supporting education for Rohingya children living in enclave communities and slum communities further inland.
The 2018 theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressForProgress, with the organisers of the movement describing how “While we know that gender parity won't happen overnight, the good news is that across the world women are making positive gains day by day…there’s indeed a very strong and growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support”.
Bangladesh has recorded one of the largest declines in Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for women since 1997, and with poorer families struggling to support their children, child marriage is prevalent, vastly limiting opportunities for women in the future. Children in the slum communities of Cox’s Bazar struggle to access education, as their families often need them to contribute an income to the household.
The Learning Centres we support here ensure flexible access to education, with equal opportunities for girls. In the next year we will be doubling the number of classes from nine to 18. Most of our teachers are women, and express the difference this role makes in their lives and how it impacts perspectives in the community.
Anika is a teacher at one of the Learning Centres, she says “Because of this role I am increasingly independent, and I don’t have to depend entirely on my husband anymore. Before this time I had no decision or say in how our money was spent and my opinion had no value in the family. Now, I take part in all decisions about preparing festivals, how to spend money, family issues etc. They all seek my opinion”.
Parents are encouraged about the importance of learning versus the problems associated with child marriage. Each Centre also facilitates ‘child councils’ who work to address, among many issues, the problem of child marriage.
Safiya is a member of the child council and says “If I leave the school my grandmother will marry me off, which I don’t like at my early age. I have decided to advocate against early marriage in my slum. If my neighbours don’t hear me I will bring my teacher to explain it to them, early marriage is a risk for health and life”.
Since a brutal campaign of violence from the Myanmar military forced over 650,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, Children on the Edge have been responding to the crisis. Already working in the Kutupalong camp for seven years, we were uniquely placed to offer humanitarian support.
Thanks to the generous support of many donors, we have:
We have also provided 5250 Solar lights - without a source of light for the evening many families have trouble with cooking and other tasks, and travel around the camp is dangerous for women at night. The lighting units are strong, waterproof and portable.
Together these will provide education for 8,400 children a year through 168 classrooms. This work will draw on our experience, providing colourful and innovative schools which stand out for their excellence. If you would like to find out more about education in the camps this year, don't hesitate to get in touch, or lend your support by clicking the buttons below.
We have been working with the Rohingya community in Bangladesh for the last seven years, providing low-profile education for refugee children in an unregistered camp. The Rohingya have experienced persecution, oppression and human rights abuses from the Myanmar army for decades.
Since we have worked with them, we have witnessed surges of violence in 2012 and 2016, with thousands of refugees pouring into the already crowded camps. This year we were delighted that our model of low-profile, community based education here was selected as part of the Promising Practices initiative, which sourced, documented and promoted innovative practices in refugee education.
Soon after this, the horrific news about the latest wave of violence against the Rohingya began to emerge. Since the 25th of August, approximately 700,000 more refugees have fled the worst series of attacks against them to date. Our Asia Regional Manager, John Littleton said “On a human-rights level, this situation is the most appalling we have ever encountered. 2,000-3,000 people have been arriving each day with stories too horrific to print”.
Hundreds of thousands of those refugees have ended up in the unregistered Kutupalong camp where we work, making us well placed to respond to the crisis. We have begun an initial provision of food, solar lighting, clean water and sanitation, whilst doubling up our 45 refugee schools as safe spaces for new arrivals. At this time we were delighted to be chosen by The Times Christmas Appeal as their international charity, with journalists focusing on our work with the Rohingya over December.
Next year we will be building 100 more semi-permanent schools in the camp, based on the effective model of our Learning Centres in Cox’s Bazar. Ben Wilkes, Executive Director at Children on the Edge says “These new centres will draw on our experience, providing colourful and innovative schools which stand out for their excellence. Our main concern is that these children have consistent support, long after the current flurry of attention subsides.”
Read more about our education work with the Rohingya
Children on the Edge have been selected by The Times as one three charities they are raising money for this Christmas. Over the next month, the paper will focus on their work providing humanitarian assistance to thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have crossed the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh since the 25th August, fleeing a brutal military crackdown from the Myanmar army. Despite decades of attacks and persecution, this is largest wave of violence against them to date, and has been described by the UN as a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’.
Children on the Edge Asia Regional Manager, John Littleton said “On a human-rights level, this situation is the most appalling we have ever encountered. 2,000-3,000 people have been arriving each day with stories too horrific to print”.
Esther Smitheram, Communications & Advocacy Manager at Children on the Edge said: “We are delighted to have been chosen by The Times to feature in their 2017 Christmas Appeal. This is a huge opportunity for a small, local charity like us to showcase our globally recognised approach. We hope that The Times Christmas Appeal will help to raise funds to ensure we can continue to respond the current humanitarian crisis and support this new wave of refugees in the longer term".
Refugees have fled to camps along the border of Myanmar, most of which were already at capacity. Around 60% of those refugees arriving in Bangladesh are women and children, subject to appalling conditions and at risk of hunger, trafficking and disease.
One recent arrival is Mohammed, who was shot in the leg as he fled the military, carrying his two children. He told the charity “It is taking people 12-18 days of travel to reach the border, through thick jungle, as all other routes are being watched by the military. When we arrived, there were around 2,400 of us kept in a holding area, we received a small amount of water and a packet of biscuits to last us two days”.
Children on the Edge have been providing education to some of the most forgotten Rohingya refugee children in the unregistered Kutupalong camp for the last seven years. This makes them well positioned to provide humanitarian support, through local partners, to those whose needs are the greatest.
Ben Wilkes, Executive Director at Children on the Edge has returned this week from visiting the camps in Bangladesh. He says: “The largest challenge facing the camp is the sheer scale of them. Kutupalong camp now claims the sad title of the world’s largest refugee camp. With many agencies rushing to provide aid, much work has been poorly implemented and is now causing further problems. We will be avoiding these pitfalls by ensuring we do thorough research and work with quality providers. We are currently working with local partners to provide thousands of families with clean water and sanitation, food parcels and solar lighting.”.
In addition to the provision of aid, Children on the Edge are utilising their 45 refugee schools to create safe spaces for newly arrived refugee children. They plan to provide consistent support, long after the current flurry of attention subsides, by establishing another 100 semi-permanent schools in the camp over the next year.
This work will be featured in the Times throughout December and into the start of the New Year, donations from readers will be split between Children on the Edge, Alzheimer’s Society and the Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust.
You can donate online at thetimes.co.uk/timesappeal or call 0151 284 2336
We support nine Learning Centres in the slum areas of Cox’s Bazar, ensuring that working children who cannot attend mainstream school can access flexible education and have a chance to rest and play with their friends.
‘Many of my friends stopped going to school, but I didn’t do this, and will never do this’ - Safiya speaks out about child marriage
Safiya is studying at Grade 3 level in one of our Community Schools for Working Children in Bangladesh, not only this but she is also challenging the norms of child marriage in her community.
The Schools we support here in Cox’s Bazar provide a free education in the afternoons for working children, and ensure equal access for girls. Here they have a few hours to learn, rest and play with their friends. All the students follow a BRAC curriculum and are prepared to access government schools at a later stage to continue their education beyond Grade 3.
Safiya is a member of the child council and, in the recent newsletter that they publish, she talked about her feelings on child marriage.
“Early marriage is a deep worry in our slums. Most of the parents commonly do it, and my grandmother is also interested in giving me away in marriage. I have heard from my teacher that early marriage is a risk to girl’s health and even their lives. Girls who have these health problems can’t be happy. Several times I have tried to explain this to my grandmother, I even talked about an example of one of my friends who married early and is now suffering.
In my slum many of people say ‘Why are you studying?’ I look older than I am, so they think I should feel the same as them and stop going to school. Because of these types of comments many of my friends stopped going to school, but I didn’t do this and will never do this, whatever people said”.
The schools help to protect girls like Safiya by giving them a route to stay in education. Teachers are trained to talk with children and their parents about the benefits of staying in school, and the risks associated with child marriage. Through the child council, children are learning even more about their safety, their rights and how to raise their voices.
Safiya is one of the first to begin speaking out about this issue, she says “If I leave the school my grandmother will marry me off, which I don’t like at my early age. I have decided to advocate against early marriage in my slum. If my neighbours don’t hear me I will bring my teacher to explain it to them, early marriage is a risk for health and life. Everybody pray for me so I can do it”.
Rachel Bentley is the International Director of Children on the Edge. Returning from a visit to Bangladesh in September•, she made the following statement:
In the last month, a catastrophic rise of violence and ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State, Myanmar has forced over 480,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh, into makeshift refugee camps and local communities. These already impoverished communities, who are still taking stock of recent flood damage, are ill-equipped to host scores of traumatised new arrivals.
Returning today from a trip to Cox’s Bazar and the Kutapalong area where we work, it is clear that the situation is in flux and evolving every day. At present we have observed the following regarding the location, conditions and provision of aid for refugees:
There are few solutions being presented for this beleaguered and stateless population, who are still largely unwelcome in Bangladesh and remain victims of hatred in Myanmar.
Over the last week our partners have conducted a survey determining that at present, the majority of refugees are situated in the Kutupalong camp. They are now carrying out further needs assessments, ascertaining how best to help in camp, identifying unreached groups and gaps in provision.
This will direct our first tranche of emergency humanitarian support (October-December 2017). This response will be implemented by our partners, MUKTI who we have been working with since 2000 and who have ample capacity.
We anticipate that within the next few weeks and months, refugees will migrate back towards the slum areas around Cox’s Bazar. Children on the Edge already have a presence in many of these communities through our support of Learning Centres for working children.
The second tranche of our support will commence from January 2018 onwards. During this stage it is likely we will establish a number of new learning centres for Rohingya children in the communities, however we will be constantly monitoring a situation that is, and will continue to be in constant flux.
The priority of any work we deliver is to extend support to the most vulnerable refugees, those who are unreached and overlooked. Whether in the camp areas or the communities, during this phase the Centres we establish will provide stable, safe spaces for children to learn, play and recover from the trauma they have been through.
This is an ongoing humanitarian emergency that will persist beyond 2018. We need to establish immediate humanitarian provision, as well as consistent longer term support for the most vulnerable displaced Rohingya children.
• A more recent situation report (November 2017) can be found here
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