Thursday, January 31, 2008

Alternative Education for Burmese Stateless Children

By: Anna Malindog
PPDD Executive Director

Working for Burma, a country bleeding and suffering from the claws of the “Burmese Army, the Tatmadaw” – is quite a challenging experience for me. In as far the country is concern, it is indeed facing acute cases of not only political and economic crises but much more it is confronting social unrest like the massive deterioration of the country’s social and moral fibers being exemplified by the massive and extensive cases of human rights violations committed against the civilian population of the country. Human rights violations and abuses are but common undertakings in Burma. They are too common that they already become part and parcel of the daily life of the peoples of Burma.

Burma as a country has been in constant conflict since independence from Britain in 1948. Internal civil war and poor governance has brought about widespread poverty, poor health care, low educational standards and systematic human rights abuses. Children, who are among the most vulnerable members of society, have been disproportionately affected by all these factors. Children in Burma are increasingly vulnerable to different kinds of exploitations. These include forced labor, trafficking, portering, recruiting child soldiers, imprisoning children in labor and military camps, and sex assaults against children.

Widespread poverty has also led to a growing number of children from Burma being trafficked into prostitution and street begging. In the face of extreme economic hardship, some parents sell their children, because they believe that the child will have a better life elsewhere, or because they are desperate for the small amount of money paid by the trafficker.

“I have seen these horrible scenarios when I was traveling around the country during the last 6 years of working on Burma issues”.

As a consequence, children and their parents bearing with them feelings of frustrations and desperation would run and cross different border areas of Burma and in most cases large number would end up in the Thai-Burma border since Thailand is the primary destination for these people. The moment these people reach the Thai border they are often not accepted as refugees. Automatically they become illegal migrants/displaced or stateless beings.

The children suffer similar fate with that of their parents. They become illegal people without any status or security whatsoever. There are children born at the border areas who cannot be registered anywhere and consequently are said to be illegal and stateless beings not recognized by any state, not having citizenship in any country and are not protected by any laws at all.

Adding to the bleak and dismal condition of the children at the border areas like Mae Sot is the fact that they don’t have any access to good and quality education that will help develop them to become mature and responsible individuals.

My organization Peoples Partner for Development and Democracy (PPDD), a regional organization working for unprivileged and marginalized groups and communities in South East Asia and in Asia Pacific at large carrying the objective of supporting grassroots people in their struggle for equality, freedom, democracy and development, with the utmost financial and moral support coming from May 18 foundation since 2005 initiated a project which to a greater degree tries to fill in the gap of the lack of educational opportunities of these stateless children from Burma. It established the “Light School: “Alternative Education and Community Development for Displaced and Stateless Children” along the Burmese border, Mae Sot” which aims to provide basic education, safer conditions, child friendly environment, critical and analytical teaching methods for displaced and stateless children.

In as far as the project is concern so far PPDD was able to build two (2) school buildings and the school is in operation for over 10 months and it is catering to 120 stateless children from Burma. The school currently has five (5) teachers and one (1) cook and one (1) project coordinator. In as far as the project is concern it thus far has its own humble success and it continuously faces challenges especially with regards to funding/financing the whole project.

However, PPDD is not alone in overcoming such a challenge. It has its partner organizations and individual supporters who are continuously helping it achieves it goals and objectives for the school. And one of the closest partners of PPDD is May 18 Foundation. The foundation since the formative years of PPDD has been very supportive. It had extended funds to PPDD for its organizational development for two (2) years (2005 -2007) and currently is extending financial support to Light School for two (2) more years (January 2008 – December 2009).

Under the current grant, the Foundation supports for the following project deliverables;

• Provision of School Materials and Facilities and Salary to the Teachers and Personnel of the School. The school currently has one (1) project coordinator; one (1) cook and five (5) teachers, two (2) of them are teaching kindergarten pupils, one (1) is teaching grade 1 pupils, one (1) teaching grade 2 pupils and one (1) teaching both grade 3 and 4 pupils. The teachers are currently catering to a total of 120 children.

• The conduct of training-workshops on community development and organizing, basic human rights education especially on child rights and basic education on how to conserve and preserve the environment and economic training for the parents of the children with possible income-generating projects.

• Expansion of the school operation to higher grade level and continuous community development and organizing and human rights education of the community – this phase basically concerns itself on the expansion both of the school building, facilities and grade levels. Light School will upgrade its grade levels in the next three (3) years to grade 6 and post 10 grade levels. On the other hand, side by side with the school expansion, PPDD will continuously implement its community development project like i.e. micro-financing/credit. PPDD will also continuously conduct training-workshops on human rights, leadership and democracy and basic political concepts for the community and for the parents of the children.

Indeed, May 18 Foundation is part and parcel of the humble successes and achievements my organization had achieved in a short period of time. And each day we look forward to a more “fruitful and meaningful partnership” with the foundation in “changing and empowering peoples and communities” in the areas and places we are working now and will be working in the near future.

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