After a double trip to our projects in Bangladesh and India this month, our International Director - Rachel Bentley shares five highlights that reflect some great progress for the children we work with.
The magnitude, longevity and escalation of the Rohingya refugee crisis has placed an enormous burden on host communities in Bangladesh. With the market for casual labour saturated by new arrivals, compensation for a day’s work in many border areas has plummeted to below 70 pence a day. Demand for commodities has also spiked, pushing up prices for basic provisions.
Most of those living near border prior to this crisis were already teetering on the edge of subsistence poverty, and poorly equipped to host one of the largest migrations in modern human history.
As a consequence, local communities are suffering and many children are forced to abandon their education. Many families cannot afford the associated costs of school or need their children to work in order to supplement household incomes.
Cox’s Bazar tourist beach is an area of outstanding natural beauty, yet it is ravaged by extreme poverty. As a result, rather than learning or playing, children often need to work to support their families. Cox’s Bazar is one of six districts with the highest incidence of child labour across the country (9.4% compared to the national average of 6%) and even if children could survive without working, in the slum areas where we operate, there are no government schools functioning.
ACAPS report that the education dropout rate here is 45% for boys and 30% for girls, largely because of low family income. It is one of the lowest performing districts with regards to education access, retention and achievement and UN figures state that currently, only 66.2 % of children in Bangladesh complete their primary education. 88% of female headed households have withdrawn children from school, citing rising food prices and the need for additional household labour.
A full third of the children living in these communities come from Rohingya families who have fled previous waves of violence. While they have attempted to blend in, a study by migration researchers ‘xchange’ in July 2018 stated that 85% of local people believed that Rohingya children should not go to Bangladeshi schools. The reality is that these refugees would not have any other access to education.
Doharazi Rohingya Enclaves
Since the early 1990s these communities have served as a safe haven for Rohingya migrants fleeing abuse in Rakhine State. Falling outside of the scrutiny of the border police, refugees in these areas have typically sought to live below the radar, and local landowners have happily received the cheap labour they offer.
Over time their numbers have swelled, with many new arrivals coming in the wake of the violence of 2016 and 2017. However, being unregistered and stateless, these Rohingya enjoy none of the services available to their counterparts in the refugee camps and children are entirely cut off from education and support.
Both groups of children are in danger of exploitation, trafficking and growing up without any education or chance to enjoy the opportunities that should be inherent in childhood.
Through 150 classrooms, we provide education for 7,500 Rohingya refugee children in the Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh. This project has been announced by global education nonprofit HundrED, as ‘one of 100 most inspiring K12 innovations across the world’.
HundrED aims to share best practice ideas and K12 innovations across borders, to help improve the future of education globally. To achieve this, a team of researchers investigated innovations from around the world to determine 100 projects that are already changing the face of education.
Over 1,000 innovations were identified through research, events and recommendations and then a shortlist were evaluated by HundrED’s academy, made up of educational experts, educators and students from 28 countries.
Projects were assessed on their innovativeness, impact and scalability. HundrED’s researchers focused on finding out whether innovations produced tangible results, whether they addressed a need in an new and meaningful way, and whether the idea could grow or be adapted to help others elsewhere in the world.
Saku Tuominen, CEO of HundrED, said: “Spreading innovations such as Children on the Edge’s community-led refugee education model across borders can be a gamechanger for education, worldwide. We will continue to encourage as many stakeholders as possible including schools, educators, administrators, students and organisations to get involved so that we can work towards a positive future.”
To share the K12 innovations, HundrED has created an online platform so that educators around the world can trial and review selected innovations using the resources for free. To explore the global innovations, please visit: www.hundred.org.
Find out more about the our work with Rohingya refugee children, and read about the the 100 2019 selected innovations at http://hundred.org/hundrED2019
Since 2012, the 11th October has been marked by the UN as the International Day of the Girl. It aims to highlight and address the challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.
This year’s theme is entitled ‘With Her: A Skilled GirlForce’ as in the next decade, 90% of girls entering the workforce in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common.
The theme this year seeks to promote the expansion of learning opportunities for girls and calls on the global community to rethink how to prepare girls for a successful transition into the world of work.
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The 25th August 2018 marks one year since the start of the fastest growing refugee crisis in modern history. Causing suffering on a catastrophic scale, escalating violence from the Myanmar military forced over 700,000 Rohingya people over the border to Bangladesh.
Children on the Edge are committed to investing in education and stability for the Rohingya children attending their Centres, and in time hope to increase their reach to cater for larger numbers. Recognising the burden on already hard pressed host communities, they are also supporting education for Bangladeshi children in Cox’s Bazar and Rohingya children living in enclave areas outside Chittagong.
Following our initial humanitarian response to the Rohingya refugee situation, and alongside our provision of education for 7,500 children, we have worked in line with Bangladesh Government strategy by contributing to sustainable energy sources in the Kutupalong Balukhali camp.
The hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking safety in this country have had little choice but to overburden the surrounding jungles in the Ukhiya hills. The Bangladesh Forestry Department has stated that the weight and rate of the influx has created an environmental crisis in the border district. Stripping away 4,000 acres of dense forest land; miles of tarpaulin and dust as far as the eye can see, has now formed the largest refugee camp in the world.
Ongoing fuel needs for the one million people trapped here vastly escalates this problem each day. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Forestry Officer describes how “An average 1 kg of fuelwood per person is required every day for cooking, which corresponds to 800 tonnes of fuelwood per day for the Rohingya refugees in the camps. This means that forest covering an area roughly the size of five football fields is cut every day for fuelwood”.
Most staple food rations distributed here consist of lentils, beans and rice, which have to be cooked in order to be edible. Almost all families rely on small fires, often used in poorly ventilated spaces, but with prohibitive prices for market firewood, most attempt to gather it from the nearby forest. Children are often sent to collect firewood alone and, with disappearing reserves, trips of up to 12 miles each way can now take the entire day. To attempt to save firewood, some people undercook their food or skip meals.
As part of our discussions with local authorities when planning our Learning Centres in the camp, we agreed to source and distribute 500 gas stoves in the surrounding areas. This has provided around 3,500 people with a sustainable means of cooking and the Centres are being used as bases to provide training to use the stoves.
In addition to this, earlier in the year we provided high quality, portable solar lights to 5,250 homes. The Kutupalong-Balukhali expansion site is vast and remains mostly unlit. This heightens risks for everyone, but especially for girls and women who have often reported feeling unsafe going out after dark.
As well as issues of safety and functionality at night, the lights also help to curb the use of firewood. Mohammed (pictured below) and his family used to build a fire to try and create some light in the evenings, but the wood was too expensive and smoke poured into the shelter. Since he’s been using the light he has said “It’s better for my family. Now we can cook and clean in the evening, it gives light to the whole room”.
We have recently planted shrubs and flowers in the grounds outside each Learning Centre to begin to grow green oasis areas for the children within the barren landscape of the camp. In time we are hoping to grow vegetables in these spaces and raise funds for solar powered fans to cool the atmosphere inside.
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"To be here and to help children is a great success after we have lost everything" - 75 Learning Centres open their doors for Rohingya refugee children
Watch this space for more news from the Centres.
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.
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”.