The brightest smiles

Today is our second day in Yangon in Myanmar, but the first day to see the programmes. This place, for me, is mysterious.The buildings are old and different from those in Hong Kong. This is all I know about Myanmar.

Our first stop is visiting the Myanmar head office of Save the Children. Here, the Head of Programmes, Thanda Kyaw, and their project manager Yin Yin Chaw gave us a briefing and introduction of the current status of child rights and their child protection work in Myanmar.

Head of Programme of Save the Children, Thanda Kyaw, gave us a detailed briefing before we meet the children - by Gillian
Head of Programmes of Save the Children, Thanda Kyaw, gives us a detailed briefing before we meet the children – by Gillian Lau

After that, we went to a community learning centre to meet with the children’s group, child protection groups and some former child soldiers. When we got out from the car, we were greeted by the children and group members. They welcomed us with big smiles, fresh roses, banners and yummy local cakes.

We were welcomed by the big bright smiles - by Gillian
We were welcomed by big bright smiles – by Gillian Lau

On this IWitness trip, I expect to witness the impact and how IKEA Foundation and Save the Children have helped children in Myanmar. We started with the first group, which is formed by eight children aged 12-17 years old. This group is a mixed group of kids who are in school, out of school or working, as well as children who have survived being trafficked. My first impression was that they were very friendly and cheerful. They send out a very positive vibe, which our entire group could feel and it touched us deeply. When we started the discussion, I found them all very eager to learn about children’s rights. The children themselves were, to my surprise, very passionate to know more about children’s law. The children’s group try their very best to convince parents and children in the community about why children’s rights are so important.

What impressed me the most is that they are very determined about what they want to be in the future. For example, some wanted to be a doctor and provide free medical service for children. Another child wants to set up a factory where children can work and learn, but which will never violate children’s rights, and will earn profit for the neighbourhood.

Compared to the children in Hong Kong, the place where I am from, this group of children are much more mature, confident and positive. Although they sometimes fail, they never give up and keep working on saving the other children.

Members of the Children Group are cherish to join the gathering - by Gillian Lau
Members of the children’s group are eager to join the gathering – by Gillian Lau

The next group was formed by seven former child soldiers aged between 15-24 years old. When they were sharing their life stories, they opened up and it sounded like they were telling some other’s people’s stories. But the facts remain, they had not volunteered to be child soldiers. In some cases, they were lied to and sent to rural areas and forced to join the state army. They suffered from life-threatening issues – like losing their lives, not able to go home anymore, being locked up and escaping, getting caught again and punished. When they are rescued or escaped, and are back in the community, Save the Children supports them to start a new life by teaching them life skills – such as giving them a trishaw (a three-wheeled bicycle for transporting passengers) to start a new living – and also providing psychological counselling programmes. With the help from Save the Children, they are confident to stand up, share their stories and raise awareness of child soldiers.

After hearing the unbelievable stories from the former child soldiers, we met with the child protection group, which is formed by 15 representatives selected by Save the Children to address child protection issues in the communities. In Myanmar, there is no child protection mechanism in local communities. In order to address this gap and encourage communities to enforce children’s rights, child protection groups target their response and prevent child protection issues. Membership is voluntary and they are usually formed by community leaders, authorities, teachers, women’s associations and parents. To support the child protection group, Save the Children provides them with numerous trainings, including leadership, communication, management, problem solving, risk management, law and legal procedures, and positive discipline skills.

I still remember the conversation we had with the children’s group. The children were so happy to share their stories and eager to join the gathering. When we were about to leave, the children and everyone else were eager to take selfies with each other. Their hugs are so warm and intimate. Their smiles and roses will always stay in my mind.

The children are happy receiving the small gifts by IKEA - by Gillian Lau
The children are happy receiving the small gifts by IKEA – by Gillian Lau
Their smiles and roses will always stay in my mind - by Gillian Lau
Their smiles and roses will always stay in my mind – by Gillian Lau
    Gillian Lau