Cash transfers in Myanmar are changing lives for the better
The confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic downturn, political instability, and escalated civil conflicts since February 2021 has cast a shadow of financial hardship over countless lives in Myanmar.
A STAGGERING 67% of the country’s population, including the once-thriving Chin State, grapples with the harsh grip of poverty.
While maintaining a focus on education work in Myanmar, FCA also supports livelihood opportunities and humanitarian assistance with interventions such as cash transfers to beneficiaries.
Three people in Chin State, whose lives have crossed paths with FCA’s work, recently shared their stories.
Van Cung’s Journey of Hope
Van Cung is a 56-year-old resident of Thantalang Town, surrounded by teal-hued mountains and sandwiched by Vuichip and Marau peaks. The two rivers serve as the lifeblood of its inhabitants. In times gone by, it was hailed as one of the most prosperous towns in Chin state.
A devoted teacher with 24 years of experience, Van Cung poured his heart into educating the youth of Chin State in Thantalang. His dedication was unwavering even during long hours of teaching. On a modest salary of about 300,000 MMK (approximately 115 Euro), he supported his family of five, finding joy in meaningful work and the love of his kin.
However, fate took an unforeseen twist. The coup of February 2021 unleashed waves of unrest and protests, causing the education system to collapse nationwide, including in Chin state. The schools closed, leaving him unemployed. Adding to the turmoil, a devastating incident unfolded on November 19, 2021.
During a military campaign, 164 houses in his town were burned down. The destruction escalated, resulting in the loss of 900 houses and 19 religious structures to the fire. Van’s home was one of these —looted, burned, and reduced to ashes. This tragedy left his family with only an aging motorbike. Even now his voice quivers as he expresses his sorrow,
“My life has been shattered beyond imagination. I never fathomed such profound loss, even in my darkest dreams.”
In search of safety, he traveled with his family and aging bike to Zephai village, situated 44 miles away near the Indian border. The host community welcomed them with temporary shelter and food, yet the village was overwhelmed with families seeking refuge, resulting in overcrowding and limited resources. Van Cung turned to farming on available vacant lands, but the yield hardly alleviated his family’s hunger.
FCA provided 150,000 MMK (approximately 57.55 Euro) in humanitarian cash assistance to support his family. This aid was transformative. With this assistance, Van Cung embarked on a two-day journey on foot to Hnaring sub-town to buy spare parts to repair his motorbike. With the restored bike, he devised a plan to sell petrol. In nearby villages, he began selling fuel, earning a daily income of 20,000 MMK—a lifeline for his family.
Van Cung’s impact extends beyond his household. He now extends a helping hand to his community by ferrying patients on his motorbike to the medical center, navigating the winding roads of the Chin Hills.
“I am deeply thankful to FCA for their invaluable support, which has been a lifeline for individuals like me in Chin State. My hope is for their compassionate efforts to continue reaching the Chin Hills, touching more lives in need.”
Iang Ku’s Path to Self-Sufficiency
In a quiet corner of Chin State’s Haka Town resides Ms. Iang Ku, a resilient 30-year-old woman sharing her life with her 90-year-old father. Nestled on a small highland peak, Haka Town rises over 6,000 feet above the earth, compact yet proudly serving as the capital of the entire Chin State.
She and her father once owned a shop, selling cherished Chin traditional dresses, bringing in a steady income of about 20,000 MMK per day. But life’s tranquility was shattered by the echoes of a turbulent coup, rewriting their narrative in an instant.
Amidst the upheaval, a powerful explosion rocked their home, leaving them with their lives but taking away their possessions and livelihood. To take refuge, they fled to Sialam Village situated 54 miles away. For three days, they traveled on foot, enduring hunger and uncertainty, surviving on foraged fruits and vegetables along the route.
Despite the community’s generous hospitality, aid was limited due to their responsibility for a significant number of internally displaced people. Iang Ku experienced profound disappointment and a sense of hopelessness regarding their future survival, especially given her father’s chronic illness. With a heavy heart, she lamented, “I feel as though I could perish alongside my father.”
Like Van Cung, she also received humanitarian aid from Finn Church Aid, amounting to 60,000 MMK (approximately 115 Euro). She invested the entire sum into crafting traditional weaving products, which hold a high market value. With this assistance, she acquired the necessary equipment for traditional weaving production.
She started earning 8,000 MMK within a few days by selling her textiles. Her monthly income gradually ranged between 5,000 to 20,000 MMK. As her earnings grew, she could afford more materials for weaving. She now earns more than enough money to meet her family’s needs and generously assists those in need within her community.
Actively engaged in church activities, she finds herself counting the blessings of her transformed life. “With determination and assistance, I’ve woven a new life, now able to offer hope and help to those in need,” she shares.
Naw Bik’s Tale of Transformation
Naw Bik, a 47-year-old resident of Thantlang Town, was employed as a lower division clerk at the Ministry of Home Affairs. His monthly income of 280,000 MMK (107.5 Euro) provided for his family of four. However, when political turmoil erupted on February 1, 2021, he was compelled to leave his job, causing financial strain that cast his family into a state of food insecurity.
In October 2021, amidst the chaos in Thantlang Town, he and his family, like many others, sought refuge near the India border. They embarked on a grueling 41-mile journey on foot, traversing rugged terrain over two days, carrying what little belongings they could. The path was challenging, marked by steep inclines and treacherous footpaths.
Upon reaching Tlangpi village, his family’s spirits were lifted by the warm welcome of fellow villagers. Despite the uncomfortable living conditions, they found solace among other internally displaced families.
In response, FCA provided 120,000 MMK to address the family’s livelihood crisis. This assistance ignited Naw Bik’s determination. He invested in a grass trimming tool and secured work at an Elephant Foot Yam and Strawberry farm, earning 10,000 MMK per day and a monthly income of 240,000 MMK. This newfound stability eased his family’s daily needs.
Reflecting on his journey, Naw Bik expressed profound gratitude for the unexpected support that reinvigorated his family’s means of survival. The generosity of strangers through the project inspired him to lend a hand to others grappling with conflicts and crises. He stressed the ongoing importance of humanitarian aid in Chin State, where many silently endure for survival.
FCA prepares for aid operation in Myanmar devastated by Cyclone Mocha
On Sunday May 14 in Myanmar, the hurricane hit the Rakhine region, already suffering an ongoing humanitarian emergency.
CYCLONE MOCHA cost lives and caused severe damage, assessment of which is underway in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The cyclone, which picked up speed from the Bay of Bengal, blew at a speed of up to 60 meters per second when it hit the land and tore down trees and power lines. Due to the storm, there have been extensive data network outages in the Rakhine state area, making it difficult to acquire accurate date.
Finn Church Aid has already allocated 100,000 euros from its disaster fund on Sunday for the emergency relief work caused by the hurricane. FCA has its own country office in Myanmar and on Monday, local employees started assessing the need for aid in the Rakhine region, where we already have projects, including those financed by Women’s Bank.
Mocha caused widespread destruction in Myanmar
“Cyclone Mocha has severely damaged the infrastructure of the Rakhine region in Myanmar. Only the tallest and strongest buildings have survived the storm, most of the others have been destroyed,” says Henry Braun , FCA’s Country Director for Myanmar .
He describes surroundings covered with debris from fallen trees and electricity poles.
“The hurricane has particularly affected housing. Those who can afford it have moved to hotels and other paid accommodation. Those who can’t afford it have sought shelter on the streets and, for example, in playgrounds.”
According to Braun, most families only had time to take water and food for a few days during the evacuations that took place before the storm.
“The emergency situation requires immediate humanitarian aid in order to meet the food and shelter needs of these people and to restore infrastructure. Our goal is to extend our help to around 20,000 people,” says Braun.
Already a state of emergency in cyclone-hit area
Half a million people were evacuated from the path of Cyclone Mocha even before landfall on the continent. In total, Mocha is estimated to have affected the lives of more than eight million people while moving from the coast to the interior. About two million of them were already in extremely vulnerable situations. A humanitarian emergency has prevailed in the Rakhine region before the natural disaster due to the military coup last year and the conflict that preceded it, and aid work in the region is estimated to be very difficult.
FCA is preparing to distribute cash grants to the most vulnerable families in Myanmar’s Rakhine region for food and to repair homes damaged by the cyclone. Distributing cash grants requires that the local market is functioning and that people are able to use money to buy basic items such as food, potable water, hygiene items, blankets and mosquito nets. The security situation in the area may also affect what kind of help can be offered to people driven from their homes by the storm in the initial stages of the operation.
We also plan to secure the continuation of children’s schooling as quickly as possible in addition to our other projects.
FCA Executive Director Tomi Järvinen, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +35840 641 8209
FCA Myanmar Country Director Henry Braun, email@example.com, +95 944 172 2176
Hurricane leaves thousands of families homeless in Myanmar
Finn Church Aid grants 100,000 euros from its disaster fund to help those affected by the destruction of Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar.
Cyclone Mocha, described as the strongest in more than a decade, hit the coast of Myanmar and Bangladesh on the morning of Sunday, May 14th. According to meteorologists, the cyclone that arrived on the densely populated continent from the direction of the Bay of Bengal has been intensified by the proximity of the sea.
The storm is feared to cause great destruction in the region, which is already experiencing a protracted humanitarian disaster due to ongoing conflict. On the Bangladesh side, the cyclone is falling on the Cox Bazar area, home to one of the world’s largest refugee camps. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees live in Cox Bazar, whose situation is already very difficult.
Finn Church Aid (FCA) has allocated 100,000 euros from its disaster fund for humanitarian aid work necessitated by the damage caused by the hurricane. FCA has its own country office in Myanmar.
“According to the weather data, the strength of the wind was up to 210 kilometers per hour (almost 60 meters per second) when it hit the mainland. Such a strong storm can have serious effects on the already vulnerable population of the region”, describes FCA’s Country Manager for Myanmar, Henry Braun .
According to Braun, Cyclone Mocha has caused severe damage to telephone and internet networks. Fallen trees and heavy rainfall have resulted in flooding, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee in both countries.
Myanmar is already in a state of humanitarian emergency
“The situation is extremely worrying and the need for aid will be huge, because there is already such a large humanitarian emergency in Myanmar. It is estimated that up to 17.6 million people are already dependent on emergency aid,” says FCA Executive Director Tomi Järvinen .
Rakhine State in Myanmar, which is one of the poorest and least developed regions in the country, has been hit hard by the cyclone. This region has experienced ongoing conflict, leading to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to neighbouring Bangladesh. Additionally, the conflict has internally displaced many others in the Rakhine region.
“Together with the UN and our humanitarian aid partners, we are ready to offer life-saving aid to the communities affected by Cyclone Mocha in Myanmar’s Rakhine State,” says Järvinen.
FCA is preparing to support the victims of the disaster with cash grants that people caught in the middle of storm damage can use to guarantee their food security. The response is expected to reach 20,000 people. The situation is expected to worsen during Sunday and into Monday.
FCA Executive Director Tomi Järvinen, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358 40 641 8209
Education has long moved towards a more digital age in most developed countries, and the Covid-19 pandemic has pressured societies to adopt even more remote working and learning tools. Both digital skills and the availability of online services are constantly expanding and improving, but the process is different in poor and fragile environments.
FCA is working towards more digitalised approaches in education projects in Africa and Asia, and the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand for new solutions. A year ago, FCA’s Coordinator of Innovations Pasi Aaltonen surveyed the pandemic’s effects on the education sector.
“Education professionals at FCA were already making use of technology in education projects in many ways. The digitalisation of education was developing through platforms such as Zoom and Teams, television and radio,” Aaltonen says.
Projects currently utilise simple technologies. Radios are convenient in countries where the means for telecommunication are either underdeveloped or out of reach for low-income families.
In Kenya, FCA distributed radios with memory card slots that enable learners to record lectures broadcasted on local radio, ultimately supporting pupils with revising the classes. Radio education guidelines were developed in the process and shared with colleagues in other countries.
Children attending a radio lecture in Uganda. Photo: Hugh Rutherford
In Cambodia and Myanmar, computers and smart devices are used in the training of teachers and career counsellors. The career counselling trainers recorded video material that was further distributed in chats and Facebook groups and also shared by Cambodia’s Ministry of Education.
“The videos are paired up with worksheets since the pupils do not have exercise books. Video-based education is a new concept in Cambodia, but during the pandemic and the school closures, it has enabled education to continue without interruptions”, says Sari Turunen, education specialist for FCA in Cambodia.
In Kenya and Uganda, a mobile mentoring project for teachers has garnered good results, even though few own smartphones. FCA has provided smartphones for the teachers, who generally have decent digital skills. The greatest challenge is guaranteeing a sufficient Internet connection for everyone – and that is one of the key issues for the future of digitalisation in developing countries.
Online learning gains new ground among artisans in Myanmar. Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) training on entrepreneurship builds new paths of cooperation that help businesses grow sustainably.
A new toolkit on artisan entrepreneurship inspires a fast-growing community of entrepreneurs in Myanmar, driven by its popularity and increased demand for remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
FCA released a package of seven videos under the name of Myanmar Artisan Toolkit (MAT). Thus far, 192 people have completed the training designed to meet the demand for new business opportunities in Myanmar. The country’s tourism and business environment has grown rapidly.
The training consists of animated videos on how to start and run businesses.
The MAT education materials offer guidance on starting and running businesses. The training was translated into animated videos and paired with physical working materials that enable independent learning at home and allowing more people to participate in the training.
A Facebook Messenger Chatbot included in the learning concept allows participants to ask advice from administrators and other members of the online community, and watch additional lectures.
The training particularly benefits those that are already skilled in handicraft but lack experience in running businesses. Nin Nu Htwe makes hand puppets and participated in the live MAT-training in 2019 and took part in the online training during the pandemic.
Nin Ni Htwe has expanded her business with the support of networks she built during the training.
“The Facebook Chatbot was particularly helpful for me. I used to work alone, but now I have a large, expanding network of artisans and trainees who I work with”, Nin says.
The training supports quality and marketing
The videos are available in four languages; Burmese, Rohingya, Rakhine and Pwo Kayin. During the first four months, 1,200 users registered to the service.
Htoo Thint Zin graduated as a MAT trainer in 2019 and gained both skills and a new network of entrepreneurs. Her business focuses on handicraft, and she works with 50 other artisans.
“On top of my business, I teach business skills such as quality control, planning and bookkeeping to youth, women and persons with disabilities”, she says.
The training has helped Htoo Thint Zin’s business to flourish.
Htoo credits the training for improving the quality of their local handicraft as well as expanding the opportunities of delivering the products to markets.
“The training has resulted in social and financial gains for my business partners and me, and soon our products will meet international standards”, she says.
Finn Church Aid (FCA) develops entrepreneurship training in Myanmar in collaboration with Lutheran World Federation Myanmar (LWF).
A career counselling project completely changed the atmosphere in Hlain Tharyar School. Teachers say that there is hardly any bullying anymore, and a parent’s evening changed the pupils’ future.
Primary education normally takes nine years in Myanmar – unless a child has to repeat a grade. The ninth grade is offered only in government-run schools, and families have to cover school fees for enrolling their children in them.
Some cannot afford to pay. These families can access free education in monastic schools, available for children in grades 1–8. There are 1,600 monastic schools in Myanmar. They follow the national curriculum but are funded with donations and by regional councils.
Although monastic schools are cost-free, they cannot offer a primary school completion certificate. Many children never get a chance to complete the ninth grade.
But careful planning is required to get children even to that point. Dropping out of school is common in Myanmar. When families move, their children’s education is interrupted and may even end altogether. Poverty is the main reason: children are often needed to contribute to their family’s livelihood. About 70 per cent of children complete primary school grades 1 to 5.
A large number of students spend more than five years in primary school, which means that there are pupils of varying ages in the final grades of primary school and in middle school.
Pupils and teachers have to leave their shoes outside the classroom.
Amidst these challenges, there is much demand for career counselling professionals. They have been educated in Myanmar since January 2018 when Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) project began. The objective is to include career counselling in Myanmar’s national curriculum.
The career counselling and guidance project involves three monastic schools and two government schools in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar.
Career counsellors gained the trust of pupils
The Hlain Tharyar School on the west side of Yangon has 445 students and 18 teachers. Two of the teachers have been trained as career counsellors. All in all, the project has trained 17 teachers as career counsellors in Myanmar
In addition to training days, the career counsellors received mentoring from volunteers of the Teachers Without Borders network. To further support their work, they will receive a guidebook in the Burmese language with a wide range of concrete guidelines, classroom activities, and useful information.
Career counsellors give group lessons for pupils in grades 5 to 8, four times a month, on top of the teachers’ other lessons. There is also private counselling, even for younger pupils. Career counselling and guidance is not yet in the curriculum.
Impressed with the benefits of the program, the school administration has allocated a space especially for confidential discussions between the career counsellor and the pupil.
Acting Principal U Zaw Min Oo and grade teacher Daw Thidar Aung both provide career counselling. They say that thanks to career counselling, five students who were dropping out of school last term decided to stay. Their classmates also had an influence on getting one of them to return to school.
U Zaw Min, the Acting Principal of Hlain Tharyar School, gives career guidance and counselling lessons four times per month to students in grades 5 to 8.
The career counsellors have shared the skills they acquired during the training with other teachers. These skills include positive methods in group management, student-centred teaching methods and agency for team spirit.
According to them, there have been attempts to improve the atmosphere of the school before but this work has brought about real change.
“We used to experience things like bullying and disruptive behaviour at school. Now we have a calm environment, which makes learning easier and enables teachers to concentrate on teaching,” teachers Daw Wah Wah Khaing and Daw Su Su Hlaing say.
Involving parents is a crucial step for the youth’s future
Supported by the training from FCA’s project, the career counsellors U Zaw Min Oo and Daw Thidar Aung organised a parents’ evening for the parents of eighth-graders. The principal of the school, chief abbot Venerable Sandarwara, held the key position as the convener of the event.
The pupils had prepared their own statements, expressing their hopes to be able to attend a government school for grade nine, the final school year. At the parents’ evening, the parents were asked to show their support for the continuation of their children’s education by taking a step forward in the school hall – nearly all of the parents gave their permission.
This means that their children are allowed to finish primary school and secure themselves an opportunity for a better future.
Text and photos: Hanna Päivärinta
The writer worked as a Teachers Without Borders volunteer in spring 2020.
Finn Church Aid has ongoing CGC projects in Cambodia and Myanmar. The implementation of the project is supported by the volunteers of the Teachers Without Borders network.
Every year on August 19th we celebrate World Humanitarian Day. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness of the efforts of professionals supporting people in crises around the world. This year’s theme is dedicated to Women Humanitarians.
By choosing this particular group we want to honour women’s tireless efforts to help people in need and shed light on additional challenges that women in particular face.
Being away from friends and loved ones are issues all humanitarians face, women however have to tackle additional challenges and risks. These range from not being taken seriously as a (young looking) woman in often highly patriarchal societies and work environments, conflicting social norms and additional security threats, including all forms of gender-based violence. National colleagues and refugee volunteers frequently find themselves in the toughest spots and at the same time remain often unseen and unheard. It is about time to share their stories. Because these women just rock!
I have the gratifying pleasure of currently working in a female only team of roughly 60 Bangladeshi and Rohingya women on a programme that provides educational opportunities to female Rohingya refugees over the age of 14. Interviewing some of these amazing women for this blog has once more revealed the daily battles many women professionals around the world have to fight besides ‘just’ performing in their jobs.
In both the Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities’ girls as a rule drop out of school when they get their period or get married. This interruption in their education automatically makes it harder for women to get a job, particularly in senior positions. If a girl drops out of school because of getting married, she subsequently often spends her days doing household chores and caring for her husband, children and in-laws, consequently family support is of uppermost importance and anything but to be taken for granted.
Tamara walking through camp on her way to a home-based learning session.
The aforementioned circumstances were also Tamara’s reality when she got married as a 17-year-old girl. Yet, her life has changed a lot since then. Now, aged 25 years, she says ‘I am an empowered woman now and people see that I bring home good money’. The journey to this point was hard, and she nearly gave up more than once. Some of her family did not approve the path to a career that she chose, and she is still struggling to meet expectations, both her familiy’s and her own. Tamara was fortunate to have a husband who supported her through those challenging times.
Dipa is another DCA staff member who has always been supported by her family, but still faces a hard time with not always being there for her family as this is what is expected from her as a daughter. Work life balance is even harder if these expectations are higher.
A supporting family is a luxury Rohingya DCA volunteer Fatima can only dream of. After getting married at the age of 15 out of love, she was abandoned by her family. Marriages are normally arranged by a girls’ parents in her community. Fatima now lives with her 3-year-old son in one of the refugee camps in Southern Bangladesh. Her husband left her for another women, staying in the same area as she does, thus bringing even more shame on her. Support from him or her family cannot be expected. Fatima, however, still feels guilty and obliged to support her family, as this is a daughter’s duty.
Besides social norms that make it harder for women to have a career of their own, security is often a major issue. Fear of sexual harassment is also often used as an argument to limit women’s movements in order to protect them and at the same time reinforces traditional social norms. My female colleagues are harassed for not fully covering themselves, being on the road on their own after dark, being unmarried, for working, etc. While I am lucky enough not to understand what is being said and ‘only’ have to deal with unpleasant glances, my native colleagues do understand all these undermining comments. This leads to a general feeling of insecurity.
So what drives them on to still keep going, to still keep on fighting?
“Over 50% of the population in the Rohingya community are female. We as women have to help them and ensure women have access to facilities and services”, shares Dipa her opinion when asked what motivates her as a woman to work in this field.
Fatima leaving the Women and Girls safe space to go home to her 3 year old son.
Others insist that it is their responsibility to support the most vulnerable and at the same time very rewarding when walking through the camp and feeling the support of the refugee community. Fatima and Sayema, who are volunteers from the Rohingya community and teach Burmese at DCA centres, tell us how much they enjoy coming to the Women and Girls Safe Space where they feel safe and protected. They are both teachers and participants at the same time, passing on their knowledge in Burmese, while improving their skills in other areas. Furthermore, they feel proud of getting educated. Sayema informs us that her family respects her as she can help them now with their documents.
‘Education can empower people and I feel a responsibility to help the Rohingya’ says 25-year-old Tamara working as a teacher in the refugee camps in Southern Bangladesh.
Involving women in each and every workplace, especially in the field of humanitarian work is essential as it eventually changes societies. In a community where women were not allowed to leave the house on their own, you can now see women in all kinds of different positions, from front line field staff up to managing positions. I am deeply convinced that despite the fact that we as a community still have a long way to go to not only ensure women have the same opportunities on paper but supporting them in tackling the additional challenges, it’s us who set the ball rolling. However, organisations have to undertake responsibility in acknowledging the existing inequality and better support women at all levels in pursuing their careers. It is time for a change!
The writer is an Education in Emergencies Professional, currently working as Education Programme Manager for FCA (seconded to DCA, FCA’s partner) in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
When thinking of children and youth in their usual environment, we think of them amidst their families and friends, in the playground, and first and foremost, in schools.
We grow up with school being a natural part of our lives. We are nervous on our first day in school, excited to learn how to read, write or count and soon after our first day, school has become part of our daily routines. Getting older, decisions such as choosing the type of secondary school, vocational training or university become key to our personal and professional development.
However, there are also the social aspects of school. Most of you may now think of your childhood friends from kindergarten or primary school. They are often the ones that accompany us all through our lives. At school, children learn how to communicate, to interact and play with others, how to compromise, just to name a few.
When I look back on my time in school, I remember how proud and excited I was to be called a pupil. And that was even more true for my younger siblings for whom it meant to be a member of “the big ones” when they finally were allowed to attend school.
Reality, however, shows that our world is anything but perfect. Not every child gets the opportunity to go to school, learn, thrive and interact socially. Children grow up in conflict zones, are suffering from natural disasters, and as a result are often forced to leave their homes and familiar environment.
According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 68.5 million people are displaced, among them 25.4 million refugees, meaning they had to cross a boarder to be safe. Out of those 25.4 million, over half are under 18. And while politicians in the so called West want to make us believe that all these refugees and displaced people are coming to Europe, 85 % are actually hosted by developing countries.
We know also, that the causes for displacement are not easily overcome – just look at the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, The Democratic Republic of Congo or the situation of Rohingya in Myanmar. According to the UNHCR, on average people remain displaced for over 20 years.
By now you may have become aware of the point I want to make – right – the importance of securing education for these millions of displaced children and youth. Displacement takes longer than before, and simply providing shelter, water, food and medical services over such a long time is just not sufficient for a dignified life with some sort of future prospective.
I am currently working in Bangladesh in the Rohingya response and I’m witnessing first-hand how providing Education in Emergencies (EiE) can impact people’s lives. And that’s not only the case for children and youths but also for the lives of our volunteer teachers from the community. Each context has its special characteristics but overall we can claim that access to at least some sort of – and at best quality, accredited – education gives families back some routines, a sense of normality and perspective.
During class, children and youth can focus on something else than their daily struggle or previous experiences. Education means a gaining in knowledge, but also contributes to psycho-social well-being, emotional learning, the improvement of social networks, and it provides parents and caregivers with spare time for other tasks, such as earning a living while children are in school.
In humanitarian crisis in particular, we mainly tend to think of children’s education. This is not enough – we need to think of sustainable, more long-term solutions and not forget about secondary and tertiary education. Especially youth very often get a raw deal but are at the same time most at risk if they are not given any prospects for their future. Furthermore, if there are no follow-ups available after primary level there comes a point when attendance drops. Opportunities at secondary level and above can consequently also contribute to better attendance in lower levels.
While providing education in emergencies is not intended to compete with lifesaving services, I think we also have to start to acknowledge that the course of emergencies changed and call for a shift to more long-term – or at least mid-term – approaches and funding structures.
Only then can we ensure that children, youth and whole communities do get perspectives and we can hopefully also contribute to changes in perception. What I mean is not to think of displaced people only as helpless and defined by the situation they are in, but as people who have something to offer, who have potential, are skilled, knowledgeable, and so many other things rather than just victims.
The writer is an Education in Emergencies Professional, currently working as Education Programme Manager for FCA (seconded to DCA) in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
New report published by the Berghof Foundation synthesises the insights from an exploratory study on the youth space of dialogue and mediation, primarily based on case studies in Myanmar and Ukraine, along with reflections from Abkhazia, Georgia and South Ossetia. FCA’s Development Manager, Matthias Wevelsiep, has contributed in the making of the report.
In an endeavor to offer insights on ‘youth space of dialogue and mediation’, conflict contexts in Myanmar and Ukraine were explored in the report. People in their youth phase were conversed with, along with people who have passed beyond this phase of life, allowing them to reflect on their own youth and on their observation of (and interaction with) the work of young people.
As a follow-up to the UN Security Council Resolution 2250, the report makes a thematic contribution to the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security, aiming to stimulate a much-needed discourse on youth contributions to dialogue and mediation.
Organisations are trying to provide refugees from Myanmar with dignified circumstances at refugee camps filled to the brim in Bangladesh. Almost half a million children are in need of education.
”It is unbelievable how densely people have settled in the Kutupalong camp,” says Finn Church Aid education cluster coordinator Kaisa-Leena Juvonen.
Juvonen worked at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in October and November. She directed a collaborative education cluster coordination with various aid organisations led by Unicef. Juvonen’s task was to ensure that as many children as possible have access to education.
The experienced aid worker colleagues with her estimated that the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe is comparable to the Haiti earthquake in 2010 or to the Southeast Asia tsunami in 2004.
”There are no roads between the dwellings built of tarpaulins in the wet, muddy and hilly terrain, so delivering aid equipment and building material is a challenge,” says Juvonen.
”The situation is difficult. Resources are small compared to the enormous needs. In addition, the cyclone season is approaching and will hit by April.”
According to the tentative results of a nutrition survey conducted in late October, severe acute malnutrition of children under 5 in the Kutupalong refugee camp has more than doubled since May 2017.
Setting up schools brings immediate relief to everyday life
There are an estimated 453,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18 in the refugee camps. Some of them are already in school. More temporary schools are being built all the time.
”The new sections of the camp will have 45 temporary classrooms built of bamboo and tarpaulin for every 14,000 people. School is attended in three shifts, with a maximum of 50 children per classroom,” says Juvonen.
FCA emergency assistance
Finn Church Aid has granted 100,000 euros to emergency assistance to the refugees in Bangladesh through the ACT Alliance. The funds will be used for food assistance, shelter, non-food items, hygiene kits, water points , latrines, health and nutrition, protection and psychosocial assistance.
”If we manage to build more school facilities later, the class size will be reduced to 35.”
Many of the children in the camps are traumatised after running from violence. Many have lost family members. The situation is especially difficult for the 23,000 children who have arrived alone.
”The children need support and the opportunity to be children, even in the difficult circumstances of the camps. Having access to a safe school environment plays an essential part.”