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A forgotten people – with no means to educate the next generation

06:39 pm Oct 03, 2013 2488

According to the UN the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Although they trace their origins back to Arab traders who arrived in Burma in the 8th or 9th century, the Burmese Government does not recognise them as citizens. Consequently, the Rohingya are restricted from marrying or owning land, they cannot travel beyond their own villages or enroll their children in formal education. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh bringing with them accounts of forced labour, rape and torture. Ignored by the international community, denied a home in Burma or a true sanctuary in Bangladesh they are in their words ‘trapped between a crocodile and a snake.’

Recent ethnic violence against the Rohingya in Arakan State, Burma, has meant that many more refugees are arriving in Bangladesh. Here UN camps are at capacity and the Government has refused to allow UNHCR to register refugees since 1992. As a result makeshift illegal camps have emerged, where conditions are squalid and the children have no opportunity for an education.

Denied help from the government and the UN, there is a risk of an entire generation of Rohingya children growing up unable to read or write.

What we do to help:

Operating in an environment hostile to illegal refugees is difficult, but Children on the Edge have developed a unique model to deliver ‘low profile’ primary education for children living in makeshift refugee camps.

We operate 60 covert ‘classrooms’ within one of the makeshift camps that enables 1800 children (30 per class) who have been denied refugee status to gain a full primary education.

We provide complete training for 10 ‘head’ teachers, who go on to train a further 50 teachers in the camp. All 60 volunteer para-professional teachers receive ongoing monthly refresher training so that they continue to provide the best education possible.

Children follow a BRAC curriculum, specially developed for students who have encountered barriers to education,  and undertake official exams to ensure that their education will be recognised despite their migrant status.

It’s been a harrowing year for the Rohingya and the prejudice and violence they face shows no sign of abating. As sectarian violence broke out between Muslims and Buddhists in Central Burma this week, it mirrors the violence directed against the Rohingya people last June in Arakan State. Here, nine months on, the BBC report that human rights abuses continue, and tens of thousands of refugees are still displaced in camps.

As the Rohingya face increasingly difficult circumstances inside Burma, more and more of them are seeking refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch has described the reaction of the Bangladeshi government as ‘inhumane and illegal’. When they cross the borders, refugees receive no welcome or official refugee status and resort to finding shelter in sprawling and squalid makeshift camps.

Those arriving by “frail sea boats pleading for mercy from Bangladesh authorities, are pushed back to sea during rough monsoon rains, putting them at grave risk of drowning or persecution in Burma. It is unknown how many have died in these pushbacks”.

The makeshift refugee camp we work in on the Bangladesh/Burma border has now swelled to 60,000, making it the largest refugee camp in Asia. It is here where we have been able to respond to the escalating need.

As we are still the only organization able to provide education here, we have doubled the number of schools we offer from 30 to 60. By training 60 para-professional teachers and developing 60 informal classrooms, 1,800 vulnerable Rohingya children who would otherwise grow up illiterate, are now gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills. Children follow a specially developed curriculum and undertake official exams to ensure that their education will be recognised despite their migrant status.

Reporting from Bangladesh, John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager says  “There’s a real sense of accomplishment in seeing the children, who just a few years ago were illiterate, now reading, writing, and talking about their life goals”.

We’ve also recently received permission from the local authorities to add arts and games to the camp school’s curriculum, so progress is being made in providing not just education, but life, colour and fun. Camp head-teachers have been learning about how to provide art activities using natural resources like leaves and fruits, one teacher, Sangita said; ‘The students drawings are very attractive, they use many colours, collected from many trees and leaves so the work is naturally very beautiful’.

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