Burma’s Kachin people have suffered enormously at the hands of their own government in an ongoing conflict which has worsened in recent months. After military attacks and occupation, thousands of displaced people have been forced from Zai Awng camp and are now struggling in a hastily constructed settlement in northern Kachin.
We are currently the only international organisation working with this forgotten community in the remote mountain camps. Our Asia Regional Manager, John Littleton visited this extremely hard-to-reach area of Burma in April 2017 and found that the situation has changed drastically, with many children now in increasingly desperate need of support.
We’ve been working for a number of years in high-altitude, internally displaced people's (IDP) camps, including Zai Awng, providing education for 629 Kachin children, in 14 Early Childhood Development Centres. These safe spaces have given young children vital opportunities to learn, play and get the support they need, so that they are able to grow and develop, in spite of the daily realities of war.
However, the intensified conflict in recent months, including air attacks and shelling has made these camps increasingly unsafe. Thousands of people were forced to flee Zai Awng late last year, looking for refuge over the border in China, only to be met with beatings and forced back, before fleeing again to stay safe. They hid in the jungle until troops withdrew. Some returned to the old camp but were not seen again, so the remaining 2,000 people built a new camp and called it Sha It Yang. This terrified and traumatised community have nowhere left to run, and are living in appalling conditions with little food and no clean water.
Three teachers from our Centre in the original camp in Zai Awng have remained with the community and re-built a safe space for children in Sha It Yang. They have set up two classes but there is need for another four.
Children are in desperate need of support after what they have been through, with teachers reporting that the even Chinese New Year firecrackers heard across the border are now terrifying for them. One teacher said, “We are doing the best we can, but naturally the children are quieter, less active and less able to be engaged and creative. 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”.
In the northern camps of Kachin state there is not a single other international organisation offering ongoing support to children. As the area remains an active war zone, access to the camps is difficult. Aid agencies sporadically operate in the central government controlled regions of Kachin State, but leave when the operating environment becomes too difficult.
We are appealing for donations to ensure we can both maintain and expand our work here, to meet the escalating need in the new camp.
If you are unable to support the work here financially, please share this blog where you can to direct attention to a terrified group of civilians, currently forgotten by the international community, yet in need of critical help.