For a very long time, the state of Rakhine in Myanmar has suffered from severe ethnic tensions. In 2012 the situation turned violent between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority. 140 000 fled their homes. Now Rakhine holds 60 internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps.
The IDPs try to maintain daily routines, although living in an IDP camp is a frustrating experience. Preparing daily meals takes your mind off despair. Rice flour gained as food aid serves to make dough rolls.
Khin Maun, 38, moved to the Ohn Taw Gyi South camp from the Muslim village nearby. He has resided in the camp for six months. “I used to be a salesman in the nearby village, but I had no more customers there. It was all empty everywhere, just no-one to sell or buy. Here I open my shop at 7 AM and close at 8 PM.” He sells all kinds of goods ranging from spices to hygienic products such as soaps. Pins, combs, batteries, candles and flashlights are also provided. The salesman has four kids. “One of my kids attends the camp school. He is almost six years old. I think education really matters. My others kids don’t go to school; they are too young to attend.”
Ma Khin Phyu, 30, prepares a lunch from the fish brought to her by her husband. The camp is situated next to the sea, but the fishing is restricted for IDPs. Khin Phyu’s husband is a salesman, who sells the fish from IDPs at the camp’s market place. She herself cooks, carries the water and washes the laundry. They have four kids aged 5, 12, 13 and 15. Only the twelve year old boy can read and write as he’s the lucky one attending school.
Ohn Taw Gyi South camp has two pharmacies. One is taken care of by Mamad Juhal (right), 17. He has attended school up to 8th grade. The pharmacy is owned by his uncle, who used to have a pharmacy in town as well. Mamad Juhal has worked for the pharmacy for eight months. “First I didn’t know how to prescribe medicine, but I ‘ve learned it from my uncle. I am still learning. The pharmacy here is a bit more expensive than the one in town used to be. Not all of the customers have money, and we give them what they need for free. At times they manage to pay us back, at times they don’t. One family is able to live on this income. We make 20 000 kyat a day (16 euros). We plan to close the pharmacy, as business is rather bad.” Mostly people buy medicine for malaria, diarrhea and headache. On the left, Mohamad Kiyas, 17, sells energy-giving products to women.
The Muslim camps don’t have government run schools. Only a small fraction of kids gain entrance to schools run by Finn Church Aid (FCA), where the kids are taught how to read, write and count. Dil Murmad, who teaches at Quran school, keeps his class outside as there’s no space inside the school for all of the children. He teaches the Quran and Arabic. For many kids it is the only accessible school.
Rabiyar, 45, is a self-taught midwife who has gained her education from other midwives. She’s been delivering children for thirty years. She helps the women of the camp. When the situation calls for more than she can do, she sends the mothers into a hospital, which is otherwise out of their reach. She herself has five kids. Her 13-yeared-boy should be attending school, but he has no place at the schools of the camp. Her kids have nothing to do and Rabiyar’s husband is also jobless.
The boys play a game called “twelve holes”. The one in the white cap is Usman Guneng, 12. The one in the blue shirt is Shadep, 18. The camp has also a playground for younger kids. It was constructed by FCA, which also provides instructors for the kids.
Ma Khin Khin Lay, 38, lives at the camp with her husband and three kids. One of her kids is in Malaysia. She and her husband don’t have a job. However, she owns a cell phone, which she rents out for a fee. The income from the hiring of the phone is vital for the family. The family owns also a solar panel on the roof of their shelter, which cost 40 000 kyat (around 34 euros). It can charge the battery of the cell phone for eight hours. Generally she charges 100-120 kyats per minute (less than a euro), but for IDPs the fee is only 70-80 kyats.
Mor Zu Arlam (left), 40, is the spiritual leader of the camp. He has lived at the Ohn Taw Gyi South camp for two years. He prays and teaches all day long. “My life was really nice before the crisis. At that time, nobody restricted where I can go.” He has 170 students at the Quran school of the camp. Mohamed Husein (right), 42, volunteers to improve hygiene of the camp. Before the camp he used to repair umbrellas. The two men are standing in front of the mosque. It was built with donations. Both feel depressed because the peace negotiations with the Buddhists are not proceeding at all.
Ohn Taw Gyi South camp was opened more than two years ago. It is built far away from the state’s capital Sittwe. The IDPs cannot get out from the Muslim district at all. They don’t even have normal health services. The latrines in the picture are neat, but not everybody uses them. In general the inhabitants are all fed up with not having any privacy at their shelters: voices pass easily through the thin bamboo walls.
The camps for Muslims and Buddhists are situated in the middle of nowhere. The Buddhist camp is, however, relatively convenient. Everyone has their own private shelter and even a small garden. The white buildings on the right are multifunctional buildings made by the Chinese to serve the camp centers.
Hla May, 41, lives at the Buddhist camp with her husband and three kids. The youngest daughter Thwae Thwae Aung attends the second grade of the government-run school situated next to the camp. “When we fled from home, we lived first at a monastery, but we could not go outside at all. So we moved here as they offered us a shelter and food”, says Hla May. She runs a small restaurant selling breakfast: rice noodles with fish and spices. One serving costs 1000 kyats (80 cents). Here nobody would buy meat or vegetable noodles, for the cost of these luxuries would be too high. The restaurant opens at 6AM and closes at 9AM.
Buddhist IDP-kids at school. FCA gave the students school kits, which included books and raincoats.
The Buddhist IDP-kids have access to government-run schools, but many kids have never attended one. The dropouts often learn to read and count with the help of FCA.
Text: Eeva Suhonen
Photos: Ville Asikainen
Rakhine state in Myanmar has long suffered from ethnic tensions between different ethnic groups in the region. There are approximately 140 000 internally displaced people (IDP) in the region. The primary schooling of children and youth of both communities are being supported at their IDP camps.
Lutheran World Federation implements Finn Church Aid’ Education in Emergencies – programme which is funded by the EU’s Children of Peace Initiative, a legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize the EU received in 2012.
Fundraising permission POL-2014-11407, valid 1.1.2015–31.12.2019, whole Finland, granted by Police Authority.
Fundraising permission ÅLR 2018/7083, valid 1.1.–31.12.2019 Aland, granted by Ålands Landskapsregering.
The raised funds will be used for Finn Church Aid’s development cooperation or humanitarian assistance during the years 2019–2020.
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