Most of us, in elementary and high school, experienced the excitement of having new school materials at the beginning of the year. Every year on June 1st, we received new uniforms, watches, bikes, water bottles, new lunch boxes, notebooks and pencils; we were so happy with this new stuff- eagerly anticipating for the first day of class. That was the best moment, as parents and elder siblings clearly cared for us. Why? Because we mattered!
Very pleased to see that my nieces and nephews are preparing for their first day of school in my hometown, I was reminded of my high school life. Even though it took only 8 minutes to walk to school, I used to badger my Mom to buy me a new bicycle. From my elementary to high school years, it was completely worry-free student life.
That was my life, as well as the lives of many others: we did not have to go through a devastating civil war. Many of us are now noticing, since the start of the war in 2011 in Kachin that there is a very limited education of the IDPs’ children.
After more than hundreds of villages were completely destroyed due to the armed conflicts, it is impossible that children in IDP camps could ever return to attend schools in their miserably empty villages. Their education is infrequent and random as they learn and study outside on the ground, or in temporary assembly halls with no chairs and tables, and of course with an inadequate supply of school materials including exercise books, pencils, as well as with limited volunteer teachers.
Children drawing pictures on the ground in IDP camp; Photo Credit: Mali Ingra Volunteer Group
Because of their strong desire to learn, the IDP camps’ committee and some donors came together and arranged to build temporary schools, yet most are incomplete (not in all IDP camps). Building schools in more than 150 camps are such a difficult task for donors and local NGOs that it is not possible to provide all the necessary due to insufficient funding. In each camp, children made up 65% of the population.
The war in most of Kachin continues to the present day. Even though worsen strife is occurring, the desire of the children to learn is growing stronger, according to local volunteer teachers. With hollow support for the majority of IDP camps in desperate need, the responsible government ministry seems to slash the education of the IDP children.
The two kindergarten students from ‘Aye Thu Hka’ IDP camp in Tanai township received school materials from donors; Photo Credit: Mali Ingra Volunteer Group
Despite the fact that the children do not get many supports, more than three-quarters of all IDP camps do not get full educational programs, they all take delight in their limited schooling opportunities, even in the midst of this unprecedented storms of war. In fact, in their early stage of consciousness, they are unable to realize the reasons for the war and its resulted consequences on their lives. They are, even now, being able to enjoy the school lives within the limits. Accepting and practicing the reality of destined school lifestyle is like a plague.
Anyone can feel empathy for their struggles in education. It is such a pain to hear how they are eager to study and learn during their stay in temporary camps. They become, unfortunately, victims without knowing of the cruel war and political games behind their situation.
A happy kid receiving school books. Photo Credit: Mali Ingra Volunteer Group
In Tanai township in Kachin state, several hundreds of children from ‘Kensara IDP camp’ are taken by tractors to schools while other hundreds of children walk. But most camps offer temporary schools in their own camp campus.
Students from ‘Kinsara’ IDP camp in Tanai township, kachin state going to school by a tractor; Photo Credit: Mali Ingra Volunteer Group
I imagine that most children might be wishing to receive new uniforms, watches, water bottles and lunch boxes for their very first school semester. Unfortunately, their desire will only be fulfilled if there are specific donors.
Thanks to everyone- individuals, local NGOs, churches, and other organizations- who have contributed in many ways to make the children’s education happen in most IDP camps, even though these programs are not fully served. It is still a great blessing for those children.
Mali Ingra volunteer group is distributing school supplies at ‘Aye Thu Hka’ IDP camp in Tanai township, Kachin state. Photo Credit: Mali Ingra Volunteer Group
As the saying goes, “ the change starts from us” which indicates that we are all responsible to take action to stop the civil war and aid the children’s education and their future in any way we can.
Because they matter!!
Children’s education is vitally important. Yes, it is their right to access basic, quality education anywhere they live, temporarily or long term, in the UN’s refugee camps, IDP camps or in cities or towns in the world. Neglecting their education can only degenerate the country’s future. It is a crucial time to show human decency.
During the very first week of school starting on June 05, 2018, Seng Nu Aung, a 10-year-old girl, said, “I am now unable to keep up my biggest goal in education that I have always wanted because of the fact that my parents live in an IDP camp and support me.” She noted, “ Even though I have this goal, I won’t be able to dream big anymore,” according to a Mali Ingra volunteer member who currently is contributing school supplies to elementary students in ‘Kensara, KBC, Aye Thu Hka and Aung Tha Pyae’ IDP camps in Tanai township, Kachin state. Her plea literally underlines the desperate need for children’s quality long-term education in IDP camps in Kachin state.
‘Seng Nu Aung’ from ‘Kinsara’ IDP camp in Tanai township, kachin state. Photo Credit: Mali Ingra Volunteer Group
Excited by receiving limited school materials from some donors, the children are comforted and motivated with a modicum of hope in education.
An exciting moment of a child with school materials before going to school. Photo Credit: Mali Ingra Volunteer Group
Sometimes, the moms were stunned by their children questions. For instance, they asked, “Mom, it’s too crowded in the tractor to just attend the school every day, and why can’t we go to school separately like we used to in our village?” And then, they continued in their innocent search for their rights, “Mom, why do we have to stay with many people in the same shelters together for so long without proper walls, and why can’t we go home. I miss my little puppy at our home that we have left.”
The moms remained silent. Despite the emotional pain in the hearts of every mom, there is nothing they can do for their children’s future education.
Based on the recent devastating situation, education can only be improved if there is no more war. Investing in children’s education is the way to improve a country’s sustainable development. In fact, children are the treasures of a country. Thus, a country must act to respect children’s rights to education.
Children studying in the night at IDP camp shows their strong desire for education. Photo Credit: Mali Ingra Volunteer Group
Sadly, the government is failing to protect the future by lack of responsibility, human decency, inertia to implement a new policy, failure to stop the intensive civil war and lack of notable efforts in children’s education.
In a data report released by UNESCO, only 65 % of refugee children attend primary school, and 9 to 23 % of refugees are able to attend secondary school in low-income countries; yet, IDP children from elementary to secondary schools for adolescents from Kachin and Shan states in Myanmar are not included in their report. There seems to be no chance for the national and international support networks to produce quality teachers for Kachin and Shan IDP camps, and it is one of the biggest challenges for local volunteer teachers to be able to teach appropriately in such a crisis.
In the recent situation, the heavy rains have come, most schools in camps are half-flooded, and children can only attend for a half-day. A worse situation has just started for children. Where do children in crisis shout out for their right to education?
Half-flooded camp in Jaw Masat IDP campus, Nawng Nan village, Myitkyina. Photo Credit: Sut Seng Htoi, a leader of kachin Youth Movement
Gandhi said, “ Ensuring that refugees have equitable access to quality education is a shared responsibility. It is time for all of us to put words into action.”
We must come together- in the East and the West- to save the children and the world. And let’s show our solidarity with Kachin IDP children and support a brighter future for children from anywhere in the world.