Myanmar, formerly Burma, in Southeast Asia is a country that has been under both colonial and military rule. In 2010, the country began to move in a more democratic direction, but military attacks on the Rohingya people have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee.
After Myanmar became independent from Britain in 1948, a civil war broke out. The troubled situation after the end of the war led to the military taking power. It was not until the 2010s that the country began to develop towards a democracy. One third of the population lives in poverty, but the existing schools are free of charge and a majority of children start primary school.
The country is sensitive to climate catastrophes and during the 2000s was hit by two major cyclones. Millions of people were affected by the disasters and many were forced to leave their homes. When cyclones and floods strike, access to clean water can be drastically reduced and schools may be forced to close.
The Rohingya crisis
In the late summer of 2017, attacks on the Muslim minority Rohingya began. Military forces opened fire on Rohingya in Rakhine state, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee. In two years, more than 700,000 Rohingya sought refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. Over 40 percent of them were under 12 years of age.
Children, and especially girls, are hit hard by crises and disasters. Among other things, the risk increases that girls will be subjected to violence or forced to marry. In the refugee camps, the lack of money and the lack of parents can further increase the risk of child marriage.
Military coups and unrest
In early 2021, a military coup took place in Myanmar and since then, protests have broken out around the country. Some of Plan International’s efforts have been restructured so that children continue to receive security, protection and education. We do our utmost to ensure that this work can continue in a safe manner without risking the safety of employees or children and their families.
This is what Plan International does in Myanmar
Plan International has been operating in Myanmar since 2008 and we are represented in over 225 communities. Our work has a strong focus on giving children as good a start in life as possible, where they are free from violence and have access to their rights. This means, among other things, that we provide care and support to mothers and their children and educate parents and young people. We also work with sexual and reproductive health for young people. As the children get older, we offer support and education so that they will have better conditions to be able to support themselves later in life.
In addition to the long-term work, we also focus on the conflicts that exist in the country and the disasters that regularly affect Myanmar. Even there, we give priority to protecting children and young people from violence and abuse. Plan International works, for example, in the state of Rakhine, where, among other things, the persecuted Rohingya people live. We have also worked to build resilience in the areas worst affected by natural disasters, among other things by securing school buildings and raising knowledge among children, young people and their teachers.
Plan International has a series of reports on teenage girls in humanitarian crises. One of the reports is about Rohingya teenage girls fleeing Bangladesh. They tell about how they live isolated in their tents and it turns out that only every second girl in the study goes to school and that a fifth of them are or have been married.
Learning a profession stitch by stitch
In the state of Rakhine, the level of education is generally low and the opportunity to find a good job with a decent salary is small. That’s why Plan International started sewing training for girls.
– When we started the lessons, no one here could sew, but now the students have made six shirts and I am really happy with their work. I hope I can be useful for the development of society, says Daw Yin Yin May who has taught sewing for the past 25 years.
For three months, she leaves her home in the capital Yangon to teach 25 girls in the state of Rakhine how to sew. There is no electricity so the girls have learned to sew by hand and on sewing machines that they pedal.
When young girls finish school in Rakhine, there are few career opportunities. Many get through jobs for the day or help with agriculture. Building a road or so crops rarely yields more than three dollars a day, and the work is never safe. Storms and droughts can destroy crops and leave entire communities without secure incomes for months. The precarious life has particularly difficult consequences for teenage girls who are often forced to marry or move to larger cities to work, far from family, uneducated and with very limited opportunities.
Plan International has arranged sewing training for over 170 girls in seven areas. Each area gets six machines that the girls can continue to sew on. Teachers like Daw Yin Yin May also train local instructors so that the training can continue even when she is not there.
– First we used paper to practice. We measured and learned to use the machine. We love sewing modern and sophisticated dresses, says Unaw Li, an 18-year-old student who has been training for a month and a half.
– There are few opportunities for uneducated people here in my village. I’m moving to Yangon after New Year’s and working in a textile factory. This training has given me a lot. When I have started working, I will send money home to my family.
Plan International has also held courses in cooking and mechanics.
Protection and assistance in the event of disasters
Su Wai takes responsibility for school safety
We are responsible for our safety at school. It was very good that we got the chance to learn more and practice.
Su Wai Lwin, 13 years old
In one of the world’s most disaster-stricken countries, students take responsibility for their own safety by preparing for future natural disasters. 13-year-old Su Wau Lwin is one of five students on the school committee for disaster preparedness. As part of Plan International’s efforts to create safer schools in Myanmar, students have received training in, among other things, evacuation and rescue operations. The projects are available both in rural areas and in cities and are adapted to local needs.
Healthy start in life
A mother of two teaches mothers about nutrition
Before this project, I did nothing. Now I support 63 women. Thanks to the project, we know how to weigh and measure the children and how to keep them healthy.
Khin Khin Htwe, mother of two
The state of Rakhine has among the highest levels of malnutrition in Myanmar. About half of all children do not grow as they should, 38 percent are underweight and 11 percent suffer from acute malnutrition. In one of the villages in the state, where access to health care is limited during the rainy season, mother of two Khin Khin Htwe works as a volunteer. She does this in collaboration with Plan International, which has started groups that hold training courses in nutrition. Here the children are measured and weighed and the mothers get to learn about the importance of breastfeeding and a nutritious diet.
Facts about Myanmar
Population: 54 million
Life expectancy: 67 years
Infant mortality rate: 37 per 1,000 births
Proportion of children starting school: 97.7%
Proportion of women in Parliament: 10%