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.
Find out more about the Learning Centres and click the buttons below to get involved.
"To be here and to help children is a great success after we have lost everything" - Over 50 Learning Centres open their doors for Rohingya refugee children
Watch this space for more news from the Centres. New classrooms are being built every day and we are progressing well in our aim to provide education for 7,500 children in the camp.
The tent school teaching staff we support in Lebanon have been increasingly observing how Syrian refugee children in their classes struggle with creativity in their writing. Project Worker Hannah McNair explained how “When learning their own Arabic language in Syria, teaching tends to focus on grammar and not on creative storytelling”.
One activity to address this was introduced by a visiting volunteer, who used an old, crumpled ten dollar note. She asked the children where they thought she had got it from and talked about how, judging by how it looked, it must have had a very long journey. She then passed it to one of the children and encouraged them to make up a story about where they had got it, the background of who had owned it before, and how they might have earned it.
“This was a great way of encouraging out-of-the-box thinking in writing” said Hannah. “Creative, imaginative thinking is a new concept to so many of our students. We’ve also noticed in the Syrian culture, they don’t often read books or stories”.
To encourage a love of stories, two ‘storytelling training sessions’ have been held for all the teachers. They then got the chance to practice what they had learned and tell stories to their classes in teams. The students enjoyed giving feedback on their storytelling abilities, and discussions were had about how using adjectives can generate excitement in writing, in the same way a film builds tension with background music.
Hannah says “Reading stories is really helpful in capturing the students’ attention and encouraging them to read and learn about different people and contexts”. To develop this, the older children have been visiting a newly established library, to choose a book each week and help with the upkeep. Every Friday, the class reports on what they have borrowed, reviewing each book and describing if and why they would recommend it. The younger classes also take turns talking to their friends about the stories they have read.
During the winter of 2017, we appealed to our supporters to help many internally displaced families in Syria to survive the freezing conditions they were facing. Our partners in Lebanon (Triumphant Mercy) crossed the border, providing food and fuel to 150 families in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.
Since this time, they have continued to work with these communities, responding to the humanitarian, educational and health needs as best they can. For the last few years, Syria has been closed to most outsiders. Only Lebanese nationals have had free access, and crossing the border takes no more than 15 minutes.
The early distributions in 2017 were coupled with home visits, listening to people who felt they had lost hope. Many people expressed that they felt abandoned by the world, and at this point our partners began supporting children here to access education. Over 70 children were sponsored to go to school including transportation, books and materials.
The area where we are focussing our support is Jaramana, south of Damascus. The city is an hour from the recently attacked town of Douma and less than a mile from the battleground of Ghouta. The intensity of the violence here has made it temporarily impossible for our partners to access the area, but they have a team of Syrians, working there on their behalf, until they can return.
Through exploring the needs of communities here, it was found that many children are without parental care, living and sleeping on the streets. There was also an identified rise in drug addictions, domestic violence and crime.
Nuna Matar who leads the work of Triumphant Mercy says, “Though we are deeply concerned with this escalation of violence, we also know that we cannot just sit with hands folded, watching people suffering without any hope”.
Within Jaramana we are currently supporting work to build relationships and support networks, including youth groups and women’s forums. To help people here more effectively, Triumphant Mercy have started the process of officially registering as an NGO within Syria. They are currently looking for suitable rented space to open their first community centre, which can be used as a safe place for women and a shelter for children to have daily meals and activities.
The hope for this centre is that, in time, it will be able to welcome and support every part of the community.
Sign up to make monthly donations to support work like this, and find out more about our partner’s work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, by clicking the buttons below.
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 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.
‘Blossoming in an environment of peace’ - Schools for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon continue to grow
There is some good news from Lebanon as the tent schools we support for Syrian refugee children continue to grow. For the past few years we have been working with our local partner, led by Nuna Matar, to provide education in the camps for 430 Syrian children.
The need is so great, that when registration was opened for new classes in January of this year, an additional 180 children were queuing up to be enrolled. Nuna has created four new classes in February, with a plan to open three more in March, bringing the total number of Syrian children enrolled to 500, with a further 100 on the waiting list.
There are significant challenges ahead, however. With many Syrian children out of school for so long, they have often missed out on basic education. Even those who had had access to school have fallen way behind. Nuna said “We were shocked to see so many 10 years old who can’t even write a simple word. These kids have been going to formal schools but have not even learned basic reading or writing skills”. The Lebanese government has opened up classrooms for Syrian refugees, but not every child is able to attend due to lack of space, transport costs, harassment and language barriers.
This has made our tent schools very attractive for Syrian refugees, as they provide a safe environment for children and quality education. Teachers are trained from within the Syrian refugee community, rather than brought in from outside the camps, and this gives a vital sense of familiarity for the children.
Children have begun to feel safe again. One teacher described how they have begun to draw gardens and houses in their classes, a marked difference from the images of war and violence that were being drawn when they first arrived in the camps.
One of these teachers, Aisha, used to work as a teacher in Syria in an area occupied by ISIS. She told us how they were indoctrinating children into their ranks, describing how “They would put heavy weapons in the hands of kids who were 10 years old and younger, … promising all kind of things like money, luring young boys. Parents were not allowed to object”.
Aisha is now grateful to work in a school where she is able to teach in a peaceful and safe environment. Her four children are also enrolled in the school, where they are now blossoming in an environment of peace, without the threat of recruitment or violence.
It costs just under £1000 to support a refugee teacher for a term at one of the tent schools, and provide them with full teacher training. The buses provided to get children to the schools cost £96 each to run each week. If you feel you can contribute, please click the donate button below. Every contribution, big or small makes a real difference.
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.