It’s the end of day two of our trip to Myanmar to see some of the work done by Save the Children funded by our Soft Toys for Education campaign, and I am full of mixed emotions.
We have heard many sad stories today of an oppressed society where poverty is rife and children are treated as commodities, put to work to support their family, starved, trafficked and physically and mentally abused. We have heard that 56,000 children die each year from preventable diseases. We have heard that education is the way out of the poverty trap but that almost 50% of children do not complete primary education. I have thought many times of my healthy and well protected nephews and nieces back in the UK and of how fortunate I am to have been born in easier circumstances.
Despite the extremely challenging circumstances, I can say that after many great experiences since joining IKEA, today definitely counts in the top ten. We have also met groups of people full of passion to create a better life for the children of Myanmar and children passionate about their rights and ready to stand up for them.
Yesterday we went to the Save the Children offices and met Thanda Kyaw, Head of Programme, and Yin Yin Chaw, Project Manager, both working specifically with child-protection projects funded by the Soft Toys for Education campaign. Thanda described to us the approach of the programme based on:
– direct intervention
– building the capacity of the adults in the local communities to respond to the needs of children
– advocacy for improved legislation and policies as well as appropriate resources to implement them
– lastly and most inspiring to me, the importance of involving the children themselves in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the work of the programme.
The community-based work focuses on developing three different types of groups:
1) Child-protection groups—made up of adults whom the Save the Children team has spotted in the community as people who care for children. These people are based in the community, therefore trusted by the community, and trained to raise awareness of child rights and advocate for improvements amongst the community.
2) Community-based organisations—these groups are trained to a higher level to also work together with judges, lawyers and the government to improve child rights.
3) Child groups—made up of children aged 15 to 20 years who are trained to know their rights, raise awareness amongst their community and raise any rights violations to the child-protection group.
The work with these groups means that the impacts of the programme will be felt long after it is over, giving power to the community and the next generation to improve their lives.
Today we met with a child group, a child-protection group and two community-based organisations. We received a wonderful welcome with warm smiles, flowers and posters.
The child group was full of children with self-confidence and strong belief in the work that they are doing. These children have high ambitions for themselves and the future of their country and great dedication to their cause.
Particularly inspiring was Aye Mya Thandar, who works selling fish. She started volunteering as a child and now at the age of 23 years she starts work extra early each day so that she can finish in time to continue the child-protection work.
Aye Mya told us with great pride of a mother who had arranged to traffic her daughter only to change her mind after seeing a play that the children had acted out to raise awareness of the dangers of parents trafficking their children.
A member of the child-protection group told us that they work with the children not only to continue the work in the future but also because the children have amazing ideas for solutions to the challenges, much better than they themselves.
What leaves me feeling most inspired about today is that with over 2,000 child and child-protection group members trained, and all of the energy and skills that those individuals bring, this programme will be having a positive impact for many years to come.