One year ago we updated you about the progress of the child councils in our Community Schools for working children in Bangladesh. Child councils are an opportunity for children to express their views and those of their classmates. There are six child councils currently running for the 18 different classrooms. Each council has 10 members and meets twice a month, once with their teacher and once with Mamun Rashid who is a project officer on the ground.
These councils are a space where children can give their opinions and suggestions about how the programme is being run, talk about issues that are affecting them, learn about their rights and communicate them to their friends and families.
This time last year, the councils had been running for about 10 months and the children were just starting to speak about some of the changes they would like to see. They were beginning to get to know their classmates in order to find out their feelings on different subjects. At this point they were still very shy and quite hesitant to express their views.
Recently we have visited the project again, and spent the morning with one of the councils. They have now been fully participating for two years and over this time the children have grown tenfold in their confidence. They have also developed a thorough awareness of what a child is, what their rights are and can easily list them off to whoever will listen!
Asked about the benefits of child councils, Mamun said “The time spent in the council is good for the children because they now know about child marriage, child trafficking and child abuse. Without the child councils they wouldn’t know this information. At the beginning they didn't know who was a child or what that meant. Now they understand that it is important and they should be protected. They know that the law protects them”.
Awareness of trafficking and abduction is developed in different ways, sometimes with role play, testing them with offers of sweets and chocolate to which the children reply a resounding ‘NO!’. A big part of their role on the council is to then take this information and communicate it to their classmates and friends. One council member called Saliha said “Whatever we learn from child councils we can express to our neighbours, they thank us and so it is good for me.”
When asked how their lives have changed since being on the child councils. Nayeem, aged 10 said “ Before we joined we didn't know about abuse, trafficking and child marriage. Now we can raise our voices, we can make requests and we can discuss our problems with the teachers and Mr Mamun and get some solutions. Also we are more important!”.
Members of the council take an active role in helping students who are struggling with their school work through an after-school tutoring club. Rehena, aged 11 says “I like being able to teach another student, like I am a teacher!”. If a student doesn’t arrive for lessons, they will find out if they are okay. The children also discuss any problems their friends might have, whether in school, their family or elsewhere. If anything arises from these conversations they bring it to the child council meeting to share. Depending on what the situation is, our local partners might refer the child for counselling, involve the teacher, local family planning agency or village development committee.
On a more practical level, the councils discuss how the schools are running and make suggestions or requests for various changes. This can be everyday things like school maintenance, repairs and furniture, or it can be finding solutions to challenges students face in the classroom.
So far they have procured benches instead of floor mats for classrooms, ceiling fans for hot days, increased the number of playtime facilities and equipment, ensured a supply of daily nutritious snacks, arranged a singing and drawing teacher, persuaded planners to build a new school with brick rather than bamboo and taken on the responsibility of developing outdoor garden areas!
From a more social level they have a strong influence in their classes, preventing their fellow students from being disturbed if another child is being distracting, or even making sure that their friends get home safely and are safe from bullying. They’ve also asked staff members to address some problems arising from having age differences within the same class.
Finally, the councils collect stories, art, and poems for the quarterly newsletter. The children help choose which pieces are most worthwhile for publication. This newsletter is proving to be very popular with all the students across the nine schools, and is also being shared with local agencies and government departments. There is more interest than available space for the publishing of poems, art, and articles written by the students. Saiful, aged 9 says “I like being able to collect the stories and poems from my friends, it gives me happiness.”
International Director, Rachel Bentley says “We have a strong focus on developing child participation in all the organisations we support. Giving children a voice is a central part of what we believe in as a child rights organisation and we’re delighted to see how this is progressing with the child councils in Bangladesh.”
Read about the work we do in Bangladesh providing education for working children
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In early September unprecedented water levels created destruction across Bihar State, India, with 213 people killed, 2190 villages underwater and thousands of people displaced to relief camps.
In this area we support a number of education projects for Dalit children and at the time we launched an appeal to help our local partners (Navjeevan Educational & Social Welfare Society) who were heavily involved in the relief effort.
Thanks to the generosity of our donors we were able to contribute to the work of Navjeevan who focussed on providing for immediate basic needs (i.e food and clothes) and worked to link affected families with government and non-government organisations for further help and support.
Not only this, but because our partners work in education, they engaged local school children in helping with the packing of relief materials ready for distribution and spent some time sensitising local young people about the suffering of the flood victims, motivating them to help. This had incredible results.
Sister Veena who leads Navjeevan said “Motivating the youth of the locality and inspiring them to actively participate in the relief work reduced the corruption at different levels, because they demanded that the government provided for those affected by the flood, and it reached people”.
The young people worked together to mobilise the politicians to contribute. They secured funds for food, and feed for animals owned by the families affected. To protect livelihoods, every family with animals was given one sack of food and medicine for the animals. The youth group also got permission to use government land to make temporary sheds for livestock.
After one protest at a government office they ensured 6000 rupees for each family affected in one block, then they went to a relief camp in the same area and asked the government to provide police protection for the people there. They also requested a free boat service for flood victims who were being exploited by those who owned private boats and were charging high fares for their use. As a result, there was both a government and a military boat service provided.
Sister Veena says “Children and youth, if motivated will act promptly and generously. Everyone has something to give. We encouraged children at one of our Centres to give what they could for the flood victims.… Almost all the children contributed biscuits, rice, potato, dal, etc. One child who is very poor and only has three shirts, brought his best shirt to give to the children affected by the flood. It was very moving and challenging”.
Children on the Edge is a child rights based organisation and we work to encourage child participation in all our work. This is a great example of what children can achieve when they are given the resources and the opportunity to make a difference.
At Children on the Edge we consider the children we help as stakeholders in their own future with their own rights and not passive recipients of aid, services and provision. A significant part of realising this, is to ensure their meaningful participation in our projects.
This process goes beyond tick box surveys and formulaic child stories. It can range from encouraging children to evaluate the positives and negatives of our work and its impact on them and the wider community, through to gaining their perspectives on their teachers and on all decisions effecting them. It also focusses on ensuring that the most vulnerable children are heard, as well as those who are able, confident and competent at expressing themselves.
This time last year we visited our project in Bangladesh where we did some participatory interviewing and activities with the children. We were glad to see a regular newsletter, with a readership of 1,500 being produced by the children, enabling ownership of the project and enabling them to communicate about their progress and achievements.
At this stage they were just beginning to form child councils, a forum for children to express their opinions about the project and represent those of their friends. A year on and our project partners have been working hard to further establish these groups. Meeting fortnightly, each child council member represents a group of students who they develop relationship with so they can reflect their views clearly. They work to bring out issues that some children might like to express, but are too afraid or shy to talk about.
Many problems and views have already been brought to light, last year the children expressed how they would like benches in the schools and education up to Grade 5. Benches are being bought, and we are working hard to find funding to increase the grade years. In more recent meetings, it emerged that a student from Amotolirchora school was made to go to a beach area to earn money, but if he failed to come home with enough he was beaten by his parents. Another child had admitted that he was scared to study, as he struggles to understand anything in the class room.
If it weren’t for the children being encouraged to have a voice, these issues would not emerge. The child councils are gradually communicating to all 600 children on the project that their opinions and feelings are valued, and will be acted upon, that they are not just beneficiaries, but are owning and designing the project.
There is still a way to go with this process. Even the children on the council can be shy about communicating their ideas, and the staff are starting to encourage them by using stories, dramas and play. They have also spent time educating the groups on child rights.
Within the schools themselves, teachers work hard to ensure that the most vulnerable children are heard. One teacher describes how “We praise the shy students about everything they do. We give them the chance to participate more times than the other children. In a dance we let them be the ones to do the dance. Each shy child we help to make friends with a more talkative child. The more talkative child encourages the shy child”.
Rachel Bentley is visiting the project this week, so watch this space, as well as Facebook and Twitter for a further update on the project.
Find out more about the project in Bangladesh
Child participation is part of our wider rights approach, read about how this shapes our work
Donate to the project
Children on the Edge has a rights based approach in all the work it does, it is guided by a UN treaty called The Convention for the Rights of the Child. This convention is a promise, made in 1989, by governments across the world, to do everything in their power to protect and promote children’s rights to survive and thrive, to learn and grow, to make their voices heard and to reach their full potential
How is this different from any other form of aid or charitable work?
Being guided by the CRC means that instead of regarding children as passive objects of care and charity, they are seen as human beings with a distinct set of rights. As an organisation we resource and support children to be agents of change in their own futures.
All the rights described in the Convention are things that many charities and civil groups uphold as part of their daily activities, the difference is that organisations with a rights-based approach don’t uphold rights incidentally, but contribute directly and intentionally.
What does this actually mean for the work of Children on the Edge, in a practical sense?
Rights in the Convention are set out in 54 articles which describe what a child needs to survive, grow, thrive and reach their potential. They are all as important as each other, but four articles (2,3, 6 & 12) are given the special status of ‘guiding principles’, which are needed for any of the rights in the Convention to be realised. These principles are listed below, with a few examples of how we are guided by them them in our work:
Can I change anything by adding my own voice?
Duty bearers are those people who have obligations to meet with regard to a rights holder and their ability to realise their rights, this will often be governments, local authorities, or even parents. We work with all these duty bearers in different ways, and encouraging local ownership of projects enhances the accountability of duty bearers in itself.
In addition to this we do encourage our supporters to add their voices to petitions and letters to government officials who can influence the law and the treatment of people and ensure their rights are met. Some of the latest situations you can help with are as follows:
- Preventing backwards steps in Bangladesh regarding child marriage.
- Heard things are fine in Burma? They’re not see how you can change it.
- Contact your MP about Kachin State, Burma and what needs to happen there.
At the start of November, we sent Esther our Communications Officer, out to visit two projects that we support in Bangladesh. The aim of the trip was not box ticking or head counting, but to spend some time with the people we work with, listening to their views, gaining understanding about their daily lives, hearing their stories and learning from them, so we can continue to ensure that our projects are owned by the children and their communities in a meaningful way.
In Cox’s Bazar, despite the rise of local tourism, poverty is widespread. The plight of poor families in Bangladesh is desperate and many children are sent out to work, and cannot afford any form of education. Here, together with our partners MUKTI and the Rohingya Children's Education Programme (RCEP), we support nine Community Schools specifically set up to help children who work the beach area here. 900 young workers attend the schools for two to three hours a day. They receive a nutritious meal, attend lessons, freshen up with a wash and have the chance to play and rest with their friends.
This is a life line for children like Maisa who we spoke with during the visit. She works as a tour guide every morning on the beach. She’s 12 years old, her father has passed away and her mother is sick with a heart problem. Because of this, in a practical sense she is the head of the household. She works in the morning, she tends their small vegetable patch and cooks for her siblings in the evening, but in the afternoon she can come and learn, play and rest. Her dream is to keep learning, and one day be a doctor.
All our work is guided by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which during 2014 has marked 25 years since its adoption). Within the past few years we have been further developing our focus on the principle that the children we work with are stakeholders in their own future, not passive recipients of aid, services and provisions. A significant part of realising this, is to ensure meaningful participation in our projects, at every level, for the children we are working with.
In Cox’s Bazar this is taking shape in a number of ways. The children have started to produce their own newsletter to express their views, artwork and stories. For the first issue they had at least 100 entries to sift through, and it was the child council who decided which pieces would be featured. The child council has recently been formed as part of the participatory work of the project. A representative from each class comes together to voice the views of the children they live and learn with.
During the trip, we worked with this group to analyse the results of some previous research. Showing them some data about teachers perspectives, we asked them for their reaction to this, and their opinions on how to go forward. This was done in a child friendly manner with scribbling on huge sheets of paper and using colourful stickers for the ‘voting’. It emerged that where the teachers priority was to make the classrooms more ‘beautiful’, the children themselves thought the important thing was to have more benches. This is currently being addressed by the team, especially for the older children who do more involved schoolwork.
In the meantime read about our Community Schools and consider donating to the work.
Children on the Edge believe that rights are things that every child should have or be able to do. They all have the same rights, all these rights are connected to each other and are all equally important.
Because we hold these as important we have a rights based approach in all the work that we do and we want all the children on our projects to have an awareness of their rights in the most child friendly way possible.
We have recently had the privilege of working with illustrator Hannah George to create a colourful poster entitled ‘You have rights’; to go on the walls of our child friendly spaces, classrooms and crisis centre which which explains some of their rights to them. We wanted them to be accessible for children from different cultures and Hannah has done an amazing job meeting this brief. Currently the posters are being translated into Thai, Burmese and Bangla and will be being sent out to our various projects over the next few months.
Hannah is a freelance illustrator living and working on the south coast of England. With a fluid and versatile approach she creates her illustrations using a combination of watercolour, pencil, ink and digital process.
Hannah works regularly with a variety of publishers and has illustrated several children’s picture books with Little Tiger Press. As you can see in the poster; Hannah’s artworks really bring characters to life by exploring movement and personality and we are delighted to have her contribute to our work in this way!
Learn more about child rights and how we implement them in our work. Also you can see more of Hannah’s wonderful work on her website.