Their villages burned and their families attacked, the Kachin people have been physically pushed to the edge of their country and given no help. Our work here is crucial.
When our staff witnessed first-hand the indiscriminate shelling and burning of civilian villages in Kachin state in 2012, Children on the Edge set out to provide aid to the children who were most affected by the conflict. After an initial survey and a delivery of aid to the hardest to reach areas, we have gone on to establish safe, nurturing environments in seven different camps for 580 internally displaced Kachin children aged 3-6.
This is done through 12 Early Childhood Development Centres in some of northern Myanmar'’s most dangerous and remote Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps. These centres are places with a trusted adult presence where children can receive the building blocks of basic education, access nutritional support, and simply enjoy being a child for several hours each day. In this way the centres play a vital role in helping these displaced children process their harsh surroundings and past experiences.
Constructed primarily from bamboo, ply wood, and tin, the structures are basic, but teachers and students have transformed each centre into a colourful space where the children can learn and express themselves. Supplied with art materials, musical toys, building blocks, sand pits, tire swings and a large collection of story books, the centres are vibrant hubs of activity in the heart of each IDP camp. Each centre blends an organized curriculum, that includes maths, language basics, hygiene, and environmental sciences, with free and organised play activities. Focus group feedback from teachers and parents has already reported an increase in confidence and positivity among the children over the past year.
Community groups which meet monthly in each centre engage with parents to educate them about the principles of early childhood education and discuss issues which children are facing in the broader community. Parents also pitch in to help construct and maintain each building as well as assist with food preparation and logistics for the centres.
This year Children on the Edge will continue to ensure the delivery of winter provisions so the children can survive the harsh, high-altitude weather conditions. A set of warm clothes, which includes a wool hat, jacket, warm trousers and pair of socks, is provided to each child in the IDP camps. As most homes are constructed from thin ply wood, and temperatures regularly plunge below zero, hypothermia is one of the greatest threats faced by young children in these camps.
Children on the Edge are the only international organisation operating in these remote, northern camps.
When our Asia Regional Manager visited last month it took him over 2 days to reach the outlying camps, and he was the first non-Kachin visitor to the area in 3 years. He describes the situation, “We cannot stress enough how little help these people are receiving. They are physically pushed to the edge of their country, teetering on the border in case of attack from forces that have no hesitation in razing villages and harming civilians”.
Living in such locations presents numerous challenges to daily survival. The high altitude makes the digging of wells nearly impossible, so camp residents must rely on surface water to survive. Finding clean surface water often means a trek of several miles and firewood must be sourced outside the camp from considerable distances.
Most families rely on daily labour and subsistence farming in order to make ends meet. In this environment, the support of early childhood care has become vital to these families. By providing care for the community’s youngest children, this programme is also allowing parents to provide food, water, and firewood for their families.
You can support this project by both donating to the work here and by raising the profile of the need here by sharing this story.
Far from the beaten track - reaching displaced children in the outlying mountains of Kachin State, Myanmar
The tragedy facing the Kachin people in Myanmar (Burma) is rarely cited in the international media and runs counter to the popular narrative that the country is steadily transforming into a democracy. In truth, the scale and nature of the needs for internally displaced Kachin children is vast, urgent and critical. At present, Children on the Edge is the only international organisation reaching these isolated children, in the hard to reach areas of the state.
While conflict in Kachin State dates back decades, the past three years have seen the most intense and brutal fighting. Camps for over 120,000 people displaced by the war continue to grow in both size and number, and those seeking refuge are increasingly downcast about how unlikely the prospect of returning home has become.
On his visits there, John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager has witnessed first-hand the indiscriminate bombing of civilian villages by central government forces and spoken with dozens of victims who have been forced to flee their homes. He describes how “Those I’ve spoken to speak of wide-spread burning of villages, rape, maiming and executions. As the central government appears determined to crush this last remaining pocket of wide-spread armed resistance in Myanmar, their tactics have been increasingly harsh”.
Reaching the unreachable
While there is broad recognition of the pressing humanitarian need in northern Kachin State, it seems that the prevailing opinion is that there are simply too many logistical obstacles to providing support there. Most of the roads are little more than crude, unpaved logging routes, cut through dense forest and steep terrain. In order to reach the most remote Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps, it is necessary to criss-cross the Chinese and Burmese borders sometimes more than once. Consequently, Children on the Edge finds itself alone in providing assistance to these outlying communities.
Despite access and supply issues proving challenging, they are not insurmountable. Children on the Edge has therefore been providing support to displaced children in Kachin State since 2012. We have been focussing on seven, northern (IDP) camps, which are situated in high-altitude locations. These settlements have been ignored by the larger organisations who have concentrated their efforts on the easier to reach locations around Laiza.
Because of the high altitude of these camps, temperatures regularly plunge well below freezing. Given that many of the IDP residents fled their villages with only a handful of belongings, winter supplies to survive these conditions are scarce and there is a particular lack of warm clothing. During our first site visit to Kachin in January 2012, we visited a village where a young child had recently perished due to hypothermia. In response, our first action in Kachin state was to purchase hundreds of sets of warm clothing for children.
Education and traumatised children
The next step was to create some activities that would build sustainable change. Together with our local partners Kachin Development Group (KDG) and Kachin Women’s Association (KWA), our full Early Childhood Development Programme was launched in November of 2014. This programme consists of 12 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres in the seven remote IDP camps, reaching 554 displaced Kachin children.
While some community buildings already existed in the camps, most were unsuitable for use as an ECD space and extensive renovation work was needed. Complicating these efforts, the purchase and movement of building materials in such remote areas is difficult due to poor roads and arbitrary security checks. The most outlying IDP camps take more than 11 hours to reach from the nearest supply points. Thankfully, all 12 centres received the needed materials, and the structures were ready before the arrival of severe winter weather.The centres have become real child friendly spaces which provide play, early years education, creative expression and training in health and hygiene.
Through these centres we are working with communities who have faced very real and sudden trauma. Children in the camps have experienced the shock of being forced from their homes under a wave of brutal violence and many of the personal accounts collected in the field are too graphic to publish.
In the knowledge that many of the children carry significant, residual trauma, the 10 teachers in the centres have not only been trained in child friendly curriculum development, child protection issues, and managing logistics but are highly focussed on providing a safe space in which the children can feel secure to express themselves. The aim of the programme is to help the children regain a sense of security and self-worth while facilitating their long-term recovery and well-being.
Each centre is supported by a committee comprised of parents and community leaders. These committees help organise support for the centres and deal with any problems that arise. The group also assists with providing labour for construction and maintenance of centres, as well as arranging for volunteer cooks and cleaners.
At monthly meetings, the committees talk with teachers and staff about issues related to the centre and broader community. These round-table discussions strongly connect the project with the community and enable valuable insight into the ongoing issues faced by the IDPs.
How you can help
Donate to the project - Funding is surprisingly hard to find as many donors simply aren’t aware of the scale of this situation.
Contact your MP on behalf of the Kachin people - While there have been measurable strides taken towards progress in Myanmar, the atrocities and violations of human rights taking place in Kachin state and surrounding areas is evidence that the old regime has yet to fully reform. It is time for the international community to take notice.
'Their villages burned and their families attacked, the Kachin People have been physically pushed to the edge of their country and given no help'
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Over the past few years the media and international community have painted an overly optimistic picture about the promised transition to peace and democracy in Burma (Myanmar). Human rights groups working on the ground have seen little genuine evidence of this reform and describe a country still plagued with human rights abuses, many of which violate international law.
In a recent report Burma Campaign UK stated that ‘Aung San Suu Kyi, President Obama and the United Nations have all said that Burma’s reform process is stalled, backsliding, or backtracking. The British government has still not publicly and unambiguously accepted this’.
As the reform process has ground to a halt, we are seeing serious consequences for those we work with:
How to take action:
It has been now been three years since the Burma Army broke a 17-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and unleashed a major new military offensive against the Kachin people.
Since then over 120,000 Kachin people have been forced to flee their homes with over 200 villages being destroyed and many people seeking refuge in internally displaced person (IDP) camps along the Burma-China border.
In his last report to the UN Human Rights Council, Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, detailed concerns about violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, noting that there has been “no progress in tackling the impunity under which the military forces currently operate”. Under this impunity the Burma Army have carried out continual human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.
This week also saw the release of the Fortify Rights report “I Thought They Would Kill Me”: Ending Wartime Torture in Northern Myanmar, which chronicles the torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of more than 60 civilians by members of the Burma Army, Military Intelligence and Police Force. These abuses were part of a systematic attack against the civilian population with the backing of the state.
The children we work with in Kachin State witness this situation on a daily basis. The Early Childhood Development programme we provide in the IDP camps around Laiza and in outlying camps on the Burma-China border is specifically designed for children who have experienced this kind of trauma, helping them to make sense of what they’ve experienced, and move forward.
As this Monday marked the third anniversary of the resumption of war against the Kachin people, 55 concerned groups and organisations around the world, including Children on the Edge signed a statement calling for peace. The document contained various recommendations urging the Government of Burma to end the violence, allow access for humanitarian aid, to respect international human rights law and to both protect and compensate displaced people.
The statement also called on the international community to establish a full investigation into the use of rape and sexual violence and urged the People’s Republic of China to respect the right of refugees. Full details of the statement can be found at Burma Campaign UK.
Find out more about our work with displaced Kachin children in Burma, and consider donating to the project.
Children on the Edge brings an essential child-focussed approach to children displaced by conflict.
Since the breakdown of a ceasefire between Burma’s central government and ethnic Kachin rebels in June 2011, sporadic fighting has displaced more than 100,000 people in northern Burma. Children in the internally displaced camps have suffered trauma from the violence they have witnessed, many have been separated from their parents and nearly all have inability to access basic services and resources, such as food and education.
A recent article by the Irrawaddy has highlighted that although various aid groups are getting through to the IDP camps near Laiza to deliver resources, that the educational needs of the children are not being fully met. During one of the Irrawaddy’s recent visits to a camp, they described how ‘a UN truck arrived at the camp, unloading school textbooks, mosquito nets and solar panels…Some children eyed the textbooks with interest, but few here find camp life to be conducive to furthering their education”.
Children on the Edge focus on 12 outlying, higher altitude settlements, which are not currently being reached by the larger organisations. After a full consultation with local groups and a thorough needs assessment, we have partnered with local organisations, the Kachin Development Group and the Kachin Women’s Association to develop a three year program that supports the physical and psychosocial needs of 1,440 children, through 12 Learning Centres.
This work is carefully planned in order to, not only provide educational materials, but to implement an Early Childhood Development curriculum, together with teacher training. Its approach recognises how unlikely it is that these children will automatically slot back the learning styles they were familiar with in their own homes. It also takes into account that a purely academic focus is inadequate for children who have lived in a war zone for an extended period of time. Components are specifically designed for children who have experienced trauma.
John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager describes how crucial a child-friendly approach is in these circumstances: “The effects of neglect in these formative years can be cumulative and lasting. Young children who experience extreme stress are at greater risk of developing cognitive, behavioural or emotional difficulties”.
The Centres are safe places with a trusted adult presence, where children aged 3-6 can access early childhood education and creative play. The aim is to allow these children to simply enjoy being children, in a vibrant place, for a few hours a day and provide them the opportunity to mature into healthy, stable young people.
Find out more about our work in Kachin State.
On 30 January 2014, reports from Free Burma Rangers stated that Burma Army troops attacked Nam Gau Village in Kachin State, Burma, firing at and capturing 18 villagers. The fighting worsened the following day, with reinforced Burma army troops attacking an additional village to the south with heavy mortar and machine gun fire.
Most residents of both villages had already fled due to a previous attack in November, now nearly all remaining families have fled, despite attempts by the Kachin Independence Army to defend the area.
The backdrop of the current attacks is the breaking of a 17 year long ceasefire in 2011 between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army, the ensuing conflict has taken thousands of lives and forced over 100,000 Kachin people from their homes. They are now living in crowded camps, often cut off from aid and essential services.
Confined within these camps are thousands of Kachin children who cope in very difficult circumstances with very little support for their healthy development. Many of these children, in particular those under the age of 6, have known nothing else but war, with daily life offering little escape from the effects of violence and conflict. These children have no access to psychosocial support.
After the atrocities stepped up, in June 2012 Children on the Edge were able to deliver vital aid (warm clothes, strategic nutrition and toys) to displaced children on the border near China.
As part of this work we conducted a consultation with local groups and a thorough needs assessment. As a result, through partnerships with the Kachin Women’s Organisation and the Kachin Development Group we are providing Early Childhood Development to 1440 children in outlying internally displaced settlements.
Although some aid and support has got through to more accessible areas around Laiza, there are 12 higher altitude camps in the northern part of the state that are still cut off. We are focussing on these areas. As well as establishing 12 child friendly Centres for displaced and traumatised Kachin children, we have created a full programme of Early Childhood Development with a robust curriculum.
The aim is to allow Kachin children who have known nothing but conflict for the past two years, to simply enjoy being children in a vibrant safe place for a few hours a day and provide them the opportunity to mature into healthy, stable young people.
As these recent attacks have made apparent, the problems in Kachin State are not abating. To respond to these needs, alongside the development of 12 Centres, we will be building a training programme for 72 teachers from the IDP camps, with a particular focus on developing child friendly techniques and expertise with children who have experienced trauma.
Find out more about the situation from the latest Human Rights Watch Report, and please consider donating to our work here.
We reported a few weeks back on our research in Kachin State, Burma. The article highlighted the problems involved in getting aid to displaced communities along the China-Burma border, as conflict escalated between the Kachin people and the central government military.
John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager has recently returned from this area where he spoke with representatives from the camps. He concluded that despite the fact the political situation in Kachin State is highly complex, that the humanitarian issue is simple. Sufficient aid is not getting through to those civillians who are caught up in the conflict and who need it most.
Since then we have received a list of essential supplies needed by the camps, acquired funding and found an aid route through. We will be providing warm clothes, strategic nutrition and toys for the displaced children in the camps.
Although play equipment may seem like a luxury item in these circumstances, it is essential for the emotional wellbeing of children caught up in conflict. Children in Kachin State have their identity entwined very closely with the war around them. They are constantly playing guns and bombs, not because of the influence of a television set, but from what they are actually seeing around them on a daily basis. Simple play equipment is essential for creating childhood games and imaginary realities that promote a healthy psychological wellbeing for a child living through conflict.
A second visit is planned later in the Spring to assess longer term needs.
Find out more about our work with refugees and internally displaced people from Burma, and consider donating to our work.
Kachin State is the northernmost state of Burma and is bordered by China to the north and east. Historical tensions between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the Burmese Government have recently intensified, placing civilians at huge risk.
A 17-year ceasefire was broken by Burmese troops in June 2011 and since then conflicts have taken thousands of lives and forced over 100,000 Kachin people from their homes. Much of the fighting has happened in areas rich in natural resources, and stretches of land where large infrastructure projects are taking place.
President Thein Sein’s administration insists that it wants a ceasefire and political discussion, yet over Christmas the government troops started to use heavy artillery, jets and helicopter gunships. Heavy shelling attacks near civilians are now a daily occurrence. Displaced people in the crowded camps are not only terrified, but cut off from aid.
Since the atrocities stepped up in June, Children on the Edge have been researching the situation in Kachin State and talking with local groups to find a way of getting aid to displaced children on the borders near China. With attacks escalating over Christmas, John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager has brought forward his trip to Kachin State in order to talk with local communities before the situation worsens further. This last week based from the town of Laiza, he has witnessed intensifying conflict including Government jet fighters and helicopters firing on civilian populations. Laiza has become a ghost town with people fleeing for their lives and mortars landing 2km outside of town.
The UN conservatively estimates that more than 10,000 internally displaced people are not receiving sufficient, regular humanitarian assistance. Aid is being restricted to all KIO controlled areas by the Burmese government, so this fact finding mission aims to find a way for Children on the Edge to work under the radar to get aid to displaced communities through our connection with grassroots local partners.
For a recent report on the increased attacks see BBC footage from the conflict zone in Kachin State. For further information about our current work with refugee children from Burma, visit our project pages.