TOUGH FU­TURE?

Ef­forts un­der­way to help street kids

Mizzima Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - By Pan Pwint

Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ment has not been blind to the is­sue. But the steps taken ap­pear to be as much about re­mov­ing an “un­sightly prob­lem” off the streets as deal­ing with the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem of pro­vid­ing a ro­bust av­enue for im­prov­ing their lives.

Wah Wah loves fash­ion. “I want to be a de­signer. I love beau­ti­ful clothes. I want to learn how to sew them,” says Wah Wah, a street kid who sells flow­ers in Yan­gon. She looks younger than her 13 years, a skinny girl with a bright smile. Wah Wah has a morn­ing rou­tine with her mother and she has never been to school. “I have to get up very early to fol­low my mother to col­lect flow­ers and I get back home very late at night,” she said. There is a non-for­mal pri­mary school run by an NGO near her house – aimed at help­ing ed­u­cate poor chil­dren who live out­side of the for­mal ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem – but she has no time to go there as she is on the streets day and night. Wah Wah gets lit­tle to eat. But she perks up when talk­ing of her dream. Street kids. The term has a bad vibe about it. There are plenty of street kids all over Yan­gon and they usu­ally move in groups sell­ing flow­ers, beg­ging for money or col­lect­ing cans. There ap­pears to be pub­lic mis­un­der­stand­ing about th­ese young chil­dren that live out­side of the sys­tem. There are two kinds of street kids. One kind of street kids just eats and sleep on the street since they have no fam­ily or their whole fam­ily lives on the street.

The other kind of street kids are from fam­i­lies that live in slum ar­eas and they work on the street all day or night but they have a place to live. But both cat­e­gories of street kids have one thing in com­mon – they have no fu­ture, not in any sense that is mean­ing­ful.

STREET CLEAN-UP

Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ment has not been blind to the is­sue. But the steps taken ap­pear to be as much about re­mov­ing an “un­sightly prob­lem” off the streets as deal­ing with the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem of pro­vid­ing a ro­bust av­enue for im­prov­ing their lives. Dur­ing the new gov­ern­ment’s ini­tial 100 Days Plan in 2016, the street kids were not for­got­ten and the gov­ern­ment planned to pro­vide large care cen­ters. Many street kids were rounded up and sent to the care cen­tres dur­ing the 100 days plan pe­riod but many of them took shel­ter at the cen­tres but then left be­cause they did not want to live there. On a su­per­fi­cial level, the re­sult of the street clean-up was that there ap­peared to be fewer kids on the street. The re­al­ity was that many went into hid­ing so that they would not be caught by the po­lice.

NGO HELP

Some NGOs ap­proach the street kids in or­der to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion while some NGOs like Link­age pro­vide vo­ca­tional train­ing for them to be able to work with dig­nity in the fu­ture. Link­age was founded in 2011 with the as­sis­tance of the French Gov­ern­ment’s Hu­man Rights prize won in 2010. The main ob­jec­tive of Link­age is to build the ca­pac­ity of chil­dren and youth liv­ing in poverty, through vo­ca­tional train­ing in the culi­nary field and to pro­vide bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion ac­cess. “We started the restau­rant with five street kids and we trained them how to cook and pro­vide ser­vice,” said Ma Khin Hnit Thit Oo, the founder of Link­age. The restau­rant is now strug­gling due to lack of fund­ing but Ma Khin Hnit

Some NGOs ap­proach the street kids in or­der to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion while some NGOs like Link­age pro­vide vo­ca­tional train­ing for them to be able to work with dig­nity in the fu­ture.

the restau­rant and con­tinue pro­vid­ing prac­ti­cal skills and train­ing. Link­age restau­rant and art gallery is not only a restau­rant but also a train­ing cen­tre for the street kids. Now link­age pro­vides a one and half year long train­ing for 10 street kids and they also send some of those kids who still want to study to school. “Some of the kids who fin­ished our train­ing are now work­ing in restau­rants with good pay,” said Ma Khin Hnit Thit Oo joy­fully. How­ever, some kids left dur­ing the train­ing to work on the street again in or­der to sup­port their fam­i­lies. Some of the kids that Link­age sent to school also left school to work. “Their par­ents pre­fer to let their chil­dren work,” she said, “be­cause they think study­ing is a waste of time, so they’d rather let their kids earn money.”

THE SOURCE OF THE PROB­LEM

De­part­ment of Al­ter­na­tive Ed­u­ca­tion from the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion is now draw­ing up a pol­icy plan and strate­gies for the kids out of school, pre­par­ing for the 2018-2019 year. On a na­tional level, it’s a big chal­lenge. “Four and half mil­lion kids are out of school in­clud­ing the street kids. They are our tar­get to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion and vo­ca­tional train­ing,” said Tim Aye Hardy, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Myan­mar Mo­bile Ed­u­ca­tion Project (Myme). How­ever, even though pro­grammes like Non-For­mal Pri­mary Ed­u­ca­tion ac­tiv­i­ties (NFPE) pro­vided by UNICEF ex­ist, many of the street kids fail to en­ter a class­room. This means that just fo­cus­ing on the chil­dren is not an ef­fec­tive way to pro­vide a bet­ter fu­ture for them. The heart of the prob­lem is fam­ily poverty. When we looked into the back­ground of the street kids, many of them are the main sup­port­ers of their fam­i­lies. Even though the ed­u­ca­tion is pro­vided for free for them, they have no time to go to school be­cause they need to work. Most of the street kids are from slum ar­eas and their par­ents be­lieve that ed­u­ca­tion is un­nec­es­sary for their chil­dren.

‘ED­U­CAT­ING’ THE PAR­ENTS

Both the kids and the par­ents or guardians fail to see any prac­ti­cal ad­van­tage in spend­ing hours sit­ting at a school desk. “If our chil­dren don’t work, we won’t have enough food to eat,” said Daw Win Win Maw. Daw Win Win Maw lives in a slum area lo­cated in Dala Town­ship and she has two chil­dren. Her kids used to work on the street but now she only lets them work in the morn­ing and sends them to NFPE to study after

she was per­suaded by an NGO called Ju­nior Dreams. Ju­nior Dreams not only teaches the chil­dren but also ed­u­cates the par­ents how im­por­tant it is for their chil­dren to re­ceive an ed­u­ca­tion. The founder of Ju­nior Dreams, Ma Eain­dray thinks that just pro­vid­ing free ed­u­ca­tion will not be enough to lure street kids into the class­rooms. “The rea­son why they need to work on the street is be­cause their fam­i­lies are strug­gling in poverty. With­out help­ing and sup­port­ing their fam­i­lies, those kids will not be able to go to school,” said Ma Eain­dray. Ma Eain­dray and her col­leagues try to per­suade and ed­u­cate the par­ents of the street kids to send them to school and some of the par­ents de­cided to send their kids to school, but many par­ents refuse. “Some par­ents sent their chil­dren to school for a few weeks but later they stop send­ing them to school, and their kids re­turn to work on the street again,” she said. “Our or­ga­ni­za­tion is so small and we don’t have any fund­ing. So we could not con­trib­ute any fi­nan­cial sup­port to those fam­i­lies, then those kids re­main on the street again,” said Ma Eain­dray.

GET­TING PAR­ENTS ON­BOARD

Over­all, if the gov­ern­ment or any of the NGOs can­not in­ter­act di­rectly with the par­ents of the street kids, there will be no cer­tain fu­ture for those chil­dren. Plan­ning and draw­ing pol­icy with­out reach­ing to tackle the crux of the prob­lem will fail to get kids off the street. Few would ar­gue against the idea that ev­ery child de­serves to re­ceive ed­u­ca­tion and work with dig­nity. Thir­teen-year-old Wah Wah un­der­stands this, dream­ing of a bet­ter life for her­self. There are many other kids like her but their dreams are still far from be­com­ing true since they are help­ing their fam­i­lies to fight poverty. The bot­tom-line for Wah Wah is help­ing sup­port her fam­ily. Un­less her fam­ily has some fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity, she sees lit­tle chance to pur­sue her dream.

Chil­dren beg on a pave­ment in Yan­gon. Photo: Mizzima

Girls at­tend non-for­mal ed­u­ca­tion classes in Yan­gon. Photo: Pan Pwint

Ma Khin Hnit Thit Oo of Link­age. Photo: Pan Pwint Tak­ing study­ing se­ri­ously. Photo: Pan Pwint

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