Back to school and towards the future
By Jason Rush
YANGON, December 2005 - Seven-year-old Chit Po Po couldn’t be happier being back in school, amongst her friends, laughing again. Happiness was a commodity in short supply last year after tsunami waves ripped through her quiet, coastal village of Dee Du Gone, and other parts of Myanmar’s Ayeyarwaddy Delta.
In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, many families who lost their homes and livelihoods to the waves found themselves without sufficient means to provide for their children’s basic needs. Some parents faced an excruciating choice between using what little money they had on food and sustenance, or on sending their children to school – the kind of choice no parent should ever have to make.
Today, nearly a year after the tsunami swept through parts of Myanmar, UNICEF has helped Chit Po Po and 60,000 other children in some of the most-affected areas return to school by providing them with textbooks, notebooks, schoolbags and other supplies.
For cash-strapped families struggling to get by, this assistance can make the difference between a child dropping out of school, or continuing with her education.
“We’ve seen improvements in the lives of children and families since the tsunami,” says UNICEF staff member Khin Moe Moe Aung. “Students in tsunami-affected villages are studying using school supplies provided by UNICEF, and parents tell us that this has helped them send their kids back to school this year.”
UNICEF support proved precious for mother Myint Myint Swe and her children. Her eyes well with tears as she speaks about the assistance her family has received.
“I’m so grateful for the supplies that my child received,” she says. “Otherwise, I could never have afforded to buy them for my kid.”
Nobody has been more appreciative than the children living in tsunami-affected areas of Myanmar.
“I got pencils, books, a ruler and a school bag from UNICEF,” says a very proud Chit Po Po, outside the door of her second-grade classroom at Phone Daw Pyae Post Primary School. “My favorite is the bag, because it’s so beautiful.”
UNICEF has also provided 1,200 schools with blackboards, desks and other furniture, and has supported the repair of 400 damaged or dilapidated schools in these areas. Teachers have noticed the difference UNICEF assistance has made.
“After children received the UNICEF school supplies, their parents seemed much more relieved, and the children are more cheerful now, and come to school more often,” says Daw Win Win Pyone, a third grade teacher at Phone Daw Pyae Post Primary School.
To help ensure that children returning to school receive a better quality education, UNICEF has provided training for teachers and members of Parent Teacher Associations in tsunami-affected areas. The courses emphasize interactive teaching methods that help children learn more, as well as measures parents and teachers can take to make their schools more “child friendly” places where children can intellectually thrive. Participants also explore way of getting out-of-school children back into the classroom.
“I learned so much from this training,” says parent and PTA member Nan Cho Hmwe, “and I’m ready to encourage other parents to get their children back into school.”
Today, teachers in tsunami affected areas of Myanmar are even better versed in ways they can help broaden their students’ horizons, and help them learn not only basic reading, writing and mathematics skills, but also other subjects like personal hygiene and HIV/AIDS prevention, that can make a very real difference in their lives.
While memories of last year’s tragedy will never completely pass, with children now back in school, learning and growing, there’s a new spirit in the air in some of these tsunami-affected communities, and a new sense of hope is taking root in children’s hearts.
Still, with nationwide primary school dropout rates remaining high, UNICEF and its partners have much work ahead to help every child in Myanmar realize their right to a quality primary education.
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