Displaced Kachin communities still fighting to give their children the best possible start
Around a year ago, we reported how the Kachin communities we work with in the remote displacement camps of Kachin State Myanmar, were beginning to lose hope. Having faced over seven years of being trapped in high altitude camps, cut off from basic services and humanitarian aid, the motivation that carried them through the first season was waning.
Living through what they describe as a ‘slow genocide’, while international attention remains on other crises around the world, 100,000 Kachin civilians endure terrible conditions, and remain ignored. Throughout 2018 these people have faced the threat of continued forced displacement, spontaneous return, land grabbing, and a continuing decrease of humanitarian aid. This has all increased the difficulty of providing for their families, facilitating transportation and facing weather conditions of less than minus ten degrees during winter.
Not only are children aged 3-6 cut off from early learning facilities, but our local partners (KDG) report that most camps have limited opportunities for playing, with terrain being unsuitable to build playgrounds, and little access to play materials. Consequently many older children disappear to the forests and find dangerous places to play.
In the past year, the 13 Early Childhood Development Centres we support in the most remote camps on the China border have been supplied with new art materials, musical toys, building blocks, sand pits, tyre swings, story books, and table tennis sets. 431 children received warm clothes and 18 new teachers were recruited, receiving intensive, high-quality training in Laiza. This brings the total number of teachers on the programme to 49.
The stand out feature of this programme however, is the contribution of the community. This ownership, despite the fact their situation has not abated, has continued to increase through 2018. In addition to providing ongoing nutritional support, 258 parents and committee members have attended workshops at each Centre, learning how to make play materials for the inside and outside nursery spaces. This included making ladders, bridges, swings and sand pits of bamboo and wood for the playgrounds. All of this has created 13 colourful, fun environments for the children to have fun and forget about the conflict situation they live in.
All the teachers are trained from within the Kachin community, learning about child psychology, dealing with behaviour, building a child-friendly environment, teaching techniques, child protection and managing logistics. 10 of the more experienced teachers have received further ongoing training on creating safe spaces where children can be free and secure enough to express themselves. They support children to regain a sense of security and self-worth while facilitating their long term recovery and well-being.
Nang Pu Lum is just over three years old and attends one of the Centres. Despite being so young, he is the middle child of a family of five, who all live in the Maga Yang Internally Displaced Person’s camp. His family fled their village back in 2011 when the ceasefire between the central government and ethnic Kachin rebels broke down. Maga Yang camp has endured further armed conflict over the last few years, with residents being re-displaced and cut off from humanitarian aid.
Nang Pu Lum’s family has struggled a lot over this time supporting such a large family and having no real means of income in the camps. Teachers described how “He just stayed alone, wasn’t talking much and wasn’t playing much with friends. Sometimes he shouted without realising it and would often just sing alone. He was always separated from others”
The teachers in Maga Yang talked with Nang Pu Lum’s family about how to give him the attention he needs, despite having lots of brother and sisters. With more support at home and extra attention at the Centres, Nang Pul Lum became an active and engaged child by the middle of the school term.
Our partners have reported that there has been a noted increase this year in parents interest in their children’s education and development, and that they listen more to their children’s opinions, leading to improvements in the children’s behaviour, self-esteem and happiness. Marip Ngwa Mi is the mother of one of the children at the Centres and says ““I am so grateful to this ECD Centre because I believe that even though I am not well educated, my child will be educated by attending this Centre. I am also so happy when my child is singing a song and dancing, which she has learned at the Centre. My child always tells me everything she has learned, such as how to wash hands before eating. I am so happy with my child’s development.”
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