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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Myanmar: Supplies allow cash-strapped parents to keep children in school

© UNICEF Myanmar/2005/Thame
Chit Po Po, 7, carries her UNICEF-provided school supplies to Phone Daw Pyae post-primary school in Myanmar.

By Jason Rush

YANGON, Myanmar, December 2005 – Seven-year-old Chit Po Po couldn’t be happier being back in school, amongst her friends, laughing again. Happiness was 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 disaster, many families, having lost their homes and livelihoods, found themselves unable to provide for their children’s basic needs. Some parents were forced to sacrifice their children’s schooling in order to pay for food and clothing – and thereby put at risk their children’s prospects of a better life in the future – the kind of sacrifice no parent should be forced to make.

Today, nearly a year after the tsunami, UNICEF is helping Chit Po Po and 60,000 other children in some of the hardest-hit 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 mean the difference between a child dropping out of school, or continuing with her education.

© UNICEF Myanmar/2005/Thame
UNCIEF has provided supplies and training for teachers and students in tsunami-affected communities.

Supplies make a real difference

“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.”

One mother who has benefited is Myint Myint Shwe. 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.”

The children themselves are very happy as well. “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 favourite 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.

© UNICEF Myanmar/2005/Thame
Myint Myint Shwe, holding her daughter, says UNICEF helped her children return to school.

Training teachers and PTA members

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’. Participants also explore ways 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 their students 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.

Memories of last year’s tragedy will never completely fade. But with children now back in school, learning and growing, there’s a new spirit in the air in 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.




UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on assistance for tsunami-affected school children in Myanmar.

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