Kachin State is the northernmost state of Myanmar (also known as Burma) and is bordered by China to the north and east. The Kachin people are an ethnic minority in Myanmar, a highland indigenous people with rich traditions.
Historical tensions between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the Myanmar government have intensified over the last seven years, placing civilians at huge risk.
A 17-year ceasefire was broken by Burmese troops in June 2011, heavy shelling near civilian populations was commonplace and women reported many incidents of systematic rape by the Burmese Army.
Human Rights Watch reported government soldiers blocking needed humanitarian aid, torching villages and firing on innocent civilians and Fortify Rights have extensive evidence of systematic torture being used as an attack on civilians.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimate that around 86,000 people remain displaced in Kachin State, spread across 140 camps. Our partners estimate the numbers on the border to be more in the region of 120,000.
More than 46% of those displaced are living in areas beyond government control where international actors have very limited humanitarian access. Those living in the crowded Internally Displaced People's (IDP) camps are terrified, cut off from vital aid and still subject to regular military attack.
As central government appears determined to crush the last remaining pocket of armed resistance in Myanmar, their recent tactics have been increasingly harsh. With significant natural resources and political influence at stake, the human tragedy is worsening, and largely ignored by the international community.
Thousands of Kachin children are forced to cope in very difficult circumstances with little support for their healthy development. Many children here under the age of 6, have known little else but war.
Daily life offers few chances of respite from the effects of violence and they have no access to early years education, creative play and psychosocial support.
Around a year ago, we reported how the Kachin communities we work with in the remote displacement camps of Kachin State Myanmar, were beginning to lose hope. Having faced over seven years of being trapped in high altitude camps, cut off from basic services and humanitarian aid, the motivation that carried them through the first season was waning.
Living through what they describe as a ‘slow genocide’, while international attention remains on other crises around the world, 100,000 Kachin civilians endure terrible conditions, and remain ignored. Throughout 2018 these people have faced the threat of continued forced displacement, spontaneous return, land grabbing, and a continuing decrease of humanitarian aid. This has all increased the difficulty of providing for their families, facilitating transportation and facing weather conditions of less than minus ten degrees during winter.
Not only are children aged 3-6 cut off from early learning facilities, but our local partners (KDG) report that most camps have limited opportunities for playing, with terrain being unsuitable to build playgrounds, and little access to play materials. Consequently many older children disappear to the forests and find dangerous places to play.
In the past year, the 13 Early Childhood Development Centres we support in the most remote camps on the China border have been supplied with new art materials, musical toys, building blocks, sand pits, tyre swings, story books, and table tennis sets. 431 children received warm clothes and 18 new teachers were recruited, receiving intensive, high-quality training in Laiza. This brings the total number of teachers on the programme to 49.
The stand out feature of this programme however, is the contribution of the community. This ownership, despite the fact their situation has not abated, has continued to increase through 2018. In addition to providing ongoing nutritional support, 258 parents and committee members have attended workshops at each Centre, learning how to make play materials for the inside and outside nursery spaces. This included making ladders, bridges, swings and sand pits of bamboo and wood for the playgrounds. All of this has created 13 colourful, fun environments for the children to have fun and forget about the conflict situation they live in.
All the teachers are trained from within the Kachin community, learning about child psychology, dealing with behaviour, building a child-friendly environment, teaching techniques, child protection and managing logistics. 10 of the more experienced teachers have received further ongoing training on creating safe spaces where children can be free and secure enough to express themselves. They support children to regain a sense of security and self-worth while facilitating their long term recovery and well-being.
Nang Pu Lum is just over three years old and attends one of the Centres. Despite being so young, he is the middle child of a family of five, who all live in the Maga Yang Internally Displaced Person’s camp. His family fled their village back in 2011 when the ceasefire between the central government and ethnic Kachin rebels broke down. Maga Yang camp has endured further armed conflict over the last few years, with residents being re-displaced and cut off from humanitarian aid.
Nang Pu Lum’s family has struggled a lot over this time supporting such a large family and having no real means of income in the camps. Teachers described how “He just stayed alone, wasn’t talking much and wasn’t playing much with friends. Sometimes he shouted without realising it and would often just sing alone. He was always separated from others”
The teachers in Maga Yang talked with Nang Pu Lum’s family about how to give him the attention he needs, despite having lots of brother and sisters. With more support at home and extra attention at the Centres, Nang Pul Lum became an active and engaged child by the middle of the school term.
Our partners have reported that there has been a noted increase this year in parents interest in their children’s education and development, and that they listen more to their children’s opinions, leading to improvements in the children’s behaviour, self-esteem and happiness. Marip Ngwa Mi is the mother of one of the children at the Centres and says ““I am so grateful to this ECD Centre because I believe that even though I am not well educated, my child will be educated by attending this Centre. I am also so happy when my child is singing a song and dancing, which she has learned at the Centre. My child always tells me everything she has learned, such as how to wash hands before eating. I am so happy with my child’s development.”
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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.
"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.
The displaced communities we work with in Kachin State Myanmar have displayed incredible resilience over the years. Despite living in harsh high altitude conditions in the camps, with no access to services, they have been gathering together to ensure safe spaces for their children to learn, play and recover from what they’ve been through.
Currently, the feel in the camps is one of despondence. It has been a year since the last round of peace-talks and there are none planned for the near future. The conflict in the area runs hot and cold, making it impossible for people here to ever settle or feel safe. The last military attack was just a month ago.
There are 100,000 displaced Kachin people on the borders, and after nearly seven years, they are still completely trapped. Their route home is littered with landmines, and even if they could survive the journey back, their land has now been sublet by the government to Chinese companies to use for banana plantations, or occupied by drug cartels.
Our Asia Regional Manager, John Littleton returned from visiting the camps here last month. He says “It’s the displaced civilians that pay the price for this conflict. They are caught in a political gridlock, and the pride and momentum that carried them through the first season of living in these challenging conditions is beginning to fade”.
Aid agencies are still not granted access to many conflict areas, leaving displaced communities cut off from adequate assistance. Children on the Edge remain the only international organisation providing early years support in the most remote camps along the border.
As the world’s attention remains elsewhere, this embattled civilian population are not only being forgotten, but beginning to resign themselves to their fate. It is vital that we maintain our support to the communities we are working with at this time.
Back the call for peace and accountability by taking action via Burma Campaign UK, and consider becoming one of our regular donors to provide stable support for work like this. For further information about the situation in Kachin, visit our project page.
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
Displaced families in Kachin State, Myanmar spent last Christmas Day in an emergency shelter, and New Years Day in a hastily constructed bunker as mortar shells blasted around them.
This situation has become commonplace for hundreds of Kachin children, who have fled conflict and are surviving with their families in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps on the border of Myanmar and China. The hardest to reach of these camps are situated high in the mountains, with freezing conditions and very little access to aid. Families have fled to these remote areas in the hope of finding safety, and yet are subject to regular military occupation and attack.
Spending Christmas Day in a shelter is not the worst these children have endured. 3,000 civillians from Zai Awng camp have endured regular shelling and military occupation, forcing them to the Chinese border a number of times, only to be beaten and turned away. A new settlement called Sha It Yang was eventually created, but it lacks clean water and with one road in and out, is cut off from basic supplies.
Children have witnessed terrifying attacks, been forced to hide in the jungle overnight, lost many of their friends and family on the journey, only to end up in a camp with appalling conditions. Our teacher here said “We are doing the best we can, but naturally the children are quieter, less active and less able to be engaged and creative”.
Thanks to the response of Children on the Edge supporters, we’ve been able to ensure that the two new Centres built in the new camp are warm and safe places, where children can begin to recover from what they’ve been through. Last New Year’s fireworks across the border were terrifying for them, we are hoping this year they feel safe enough to enjoy them.
Children on the Edge remain the only organisation providing ongoing support to young children in these remote camps. Going into 2018 we will be actively seeking support for this crisis that the world has overlooked. One teacher said “The wider community is so tired of the fighting, they just want to go home, and they don’t understand why the world isn’t paying attention”.
Find out more about our work in Kachin State.