Through both printed and digital child- led publications, Children on the Edge are working to ensure Rohingya refugee children have a voice.
“Nobody knows about us” has been a frequent remark coming from discussions with many of the 7,500 children we support in the Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh.
On the 20th June each year, the world commemorates the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees. Around the world more than 50 million people have fled their homes, and over half of these are children.
The refugee children we work with in Lebanon, Bangladesh and Myanmar all show great strength, courage and resilience every day, surviving in some of the toughest places around the world. On World Refugee Day 2019, we wanted to take the time to share some of their thoughts and experiences.
Children from the Learning Centres we support in Bihar State, India joined with hundreds of their local friends this week, to demonstrate in Patna about the need for greater protection.
Recent cases in the media, highlighting incidents of child rape and murder, prompted the children to come out in force and call for a safer environment. They also chose to highlight issues like dowry, the halting of higher education for girls and the need for greater gender equality.
The children lined the roadsides, carrying placards and singing motivational songs. In a striking expression of their solidarity, 500 children from eight different schools, held hands in a kilometre long human chain, appealing to adults to pay more attention to safeguarding children and their rights.
Sr Veena who leads the work in the urban slums of Patna said, “We need to sensitise and educate adults to create a child-safe environment. The purpose of the human chain was to call upon all our neighbours in the wider community to be alert to issues of child protection and children’s rights”.
Veena and her team have ongoing gender equality programmes as part of their work with Dalit children in the slums of Patna. They have seen significant change in the attitudes towards girls, and made many steps towards their protection and encouragement.
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Children from the Child Rights Club we support in Loco slum, Uganda have recently organised a clean up day in their area, inspiring the adults to join in and attracting other children to the club.
30 children from the Club, based in the Ugandan Railways Primary School and supported by Children on the Edge Africa, came up with the idea when they created their Club’s work plan at the start of the year.
After they decided they wanted to have a day to spruce the area, Children on the Edge provided some equipment, and the Loco Child Protection Team also bought shovels along, with a few of the team members helping out on the day. The area was swept and tidied, with rubbish being gathered and burnt.
Ashwin Ndlovu, who is currently out in Uganda supporting the development of the team’s Monitoring and Evaluation said ‘They were so organised and enthusiastic. They all put on their child rights T-shirts, and the girl that was leading it was brilliant. She was very confident, and went around to people’s houses, talking to adults about children’s rights and what the Child Rights Club does”.
One member of the Child Rights Club lives in a neighbouring community, but he came to Loco to help his team members clean their community and share information with parents about child rights. He said “I don’t live here, but I came to help as children have the right to live in a clean environment”. A few more children followed along, asking how they could join as they were inspired by what the other children were sharing.
After the cleaning was done, they went back to the Primary School for some porridge and a workshop led by the children themselves. They sat outside and talked about how to stay safe from abuse, chatting about situations they have been through and what they find difficult.
They talked freely with our social worker Babra, and the patron of the Child Rights Club, saying that they find it harder to talk to their teachers. One girl said ‘My Stepmother gives me all the clothes and I do the laundry by myself. She doesn’t ask her own children to do this, and I have to wait until the other children finish their meal each day and eat the leftovers”.
The children were glad to be able to talk, and also shared some positive comments about the project. They talked about how much they like to play in the new Loco playground outside the Early Childhood Development Centre, when all they used to do was go to Jinja town to pick up scrap.
Watch this space to see what new ideas the Child Rights Club comes up with this year, and find out more about the wider project here.
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”.
Children on the Edge supports children to realise their rights, be free to express their views if they would like to, and influence decisions in matters effecting them. It’s a central part of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and not just a theory, but something that enables their active participation.
In Bangladesh where we support Community Schools for Working Children, we have established child councils to represent the voices of their friends and contribute to decisions about the running of the schools. They have not only been growing in confidence and self expression, but they are actively involved in making their environment creative and colourful and ensuring that play is a central part of the life of the schools.
To do this they have organised a regular ‘Play-day’. Each Thursday the child council members divide into different groups and arrange various creative activities, fun and games. As well as this, they spend time making their environment clean and beautiful, both at home and at school. This involves cleaning, gardening and making decorations for classrooms.
One representative from a child council said “Most of the time we are busy helping our parents with our domestic and outside work, after study we have very limited scope to play. We feel bored. Thursday brings different feelings for us”. Another said “I become independent on this day. I mix with all teachers and my friends freely. I can take something to play as my choice. I get more joy on this day.”
The teachers also see the benefit of having play as a priority in the week. Asma says “Playing day is a big gathering for us all together. Students are chirping, playing and dancing. We just love it. Having this day means that children gets refreshment, become self-motivated to attend school regularly and study too. It also benefits their friendships and the sports competitions boost their confidence in doing their best”.
The day not only improves wellbeing, relationships, confidence and motivation, but it has an impact in the wider community. Nazia is 10 years old and lives in Kutubdiapara slum. She has a brother and three sisters. Her father is a mechanic and her mother sometimes makes pickle to sell at the market.
Nazia says “I recently made a vegetable garden at home with my mother. I have planted radish, brinjal, vegetable leaf and tomato. Every week this brings money to support my family. I have been encouraged in how to do this from my school activities. There is a flower and vegetable garden which I have created there with my friends. This made me realise I can do it in my home and I share it with my mother.
My mother said because I am younger I am lots of hard work, but she was happy to see my interest in the garden and helped me to make it. Now I have a nice vegetable garden and my mother is saying all the time; “Education is a big thing!”. I am very happy. I have done something for my family”.
Cleaning at home and at school has changed the mindset of the children and also made a difference in the areas where they live. Talking to one group of parents (Imam, Habibullah, Senuara, Rina and Parvin) who live in Amtolirchara area, they described how the children have changed the area:
“In our community there is a Mukti school and our children study there. Every two months we attend a parent’s meeting where we learn many things to do with looking after children and hygiene. We try to maintain it, but most of the community people are using an open toilet. It is polluting to the environment and our lives. Our children do a day where they play but also learn about having a clean environment. Sometimes they say to us how in their learning books there is a good latrine and ask why are we are not making one? Our children feel uncomfortable using the open one. We were unaware about this before, so now many of us in our community are using the sanitised latrine. Our children and the school have changed many of our views.”
Mamun Rashid who oversees the child councils says “We asked the child councils to tell us what was in their minds and what they wanted to do. They said they wanted to live clean and try and make their environment nice, they were motivated to do all of this themselves. They have become courageous”.
The Community schools currently provide education for 900 working children, enabling them to learn, rest and play with their friends for a few hours each day.
You can find out more by going to our project page and support this work by making a donation, signing up as a regular donor or taking on a challenge!
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.
You can support this work over Christmas by giving to our Season of Hope Appeal or perhaps in the new year take on a fundraising challenge!