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Myanmar: Children affected by Rakhine conflict miss a year of school

13 Jun 2013


A mother and her children stand in their small hut in a camp for displaced people in Rakhine State. Credit: OCHA/Michelle Delaney
Inter-communal clashes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2012 displaced an estimated 140,000 people, including 20,000 primary school children.
Inter-communal violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in June and October 2012 displaced an estimated 140,000 people. Many fled to temporary camps where they have been living without adequate shelter or sanitation facilities. Continued tensions between communities means that these families are still reluctant to return home.
Many of the 20,000 children living in displacement camps have now missed a year of schooling. Outside of the camps, schools are open. But the tensions between the communities, along with safety and security concerns, mean that few parents are prepared to let their children attend them. In addition, aid agencies have struggled to enroll teachers to work in the camps as they are afraid of being harassed.
Noor Jun Hun (30) and her eight children now live in Kaung Doke Khar camp in Sittwe Township. Noor fled her home last June when her house was razed to the ground in the first wave of violence. She had a lucky escape, but daily life has been a struggle ever since. She worries about her children’s education.
“They have not been in school for almost a year,” she explained. “UNICEF is working to get the children back to school. I will be happy to send them when they begin.”
“We borrowed a blackboard”
Worried about their children’s educational prospects, four residents of Kaung Doke Khar camp decided that they had waited long enough. They set up a classroom in a makeshift hut. They have been teaching Mathematics, English and the Myanmar language to over 500 children in the camp.
Mgmg Hla (25) is one of the four volunteer teachers. “Teaching is not easy when you have nothing. We borrowed a blackboard from a nearby village. Our teaching textbooks were bought from the little money we have. We taught five days a week, to over 100 children each.
“But then the monsoon rains hit and destroyed our school hut. Since then classes have stopped.” 
The rainy season runs from about May to October in Rakhine State. Many camps are located in low-lying areas easily flooded by a day’s rain. Aid agencies say that the immediate priority now is for the Government to provide suitable land, temporary shelter and facilities for about 70,000 people living in the most precarious camps. Thereafter, permanent and sustainable solutions need to be found through a process of reconciliation, which has yet to start.
A new school
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. is opening a temporary school in Kaung Doke Khar camp later this month.
“By the end of June, we will have set up 26 temporary learning centres and trained 93 volunteer teachers in displacement camps in Rakhine State,” says Mary Ombaka, UNICEF’s Emergency Education Officer. “This will benefit over 8,200 children. But more must be done. Funding is urgently needed to build additional learning spaces and provide more teacher-training.”
The large number of children living in the camps, combined with the limited resources of humanitarian agencies, mean that each child can only attend school for two hours per day.
“Providing such limited education opportunities to children in the long run means their right to a quality basic education is not being met,” warned UNICEF’s Ombaka. “And this means that an already vulnerable group is further marginalized.”
Long-term solutions
Temporary education is only a short-term solution. All children need to be able to access the schools outside the camps, explains Barbara Manzi, the Head of OCHA’s office in Rakhine. In the past, these schools enrolled students from all communities together. 
“The school system must promote integration and tolerance to help reconcile communities,” she said.