Child landmine survivors receive critical assistance

Supporting landmine survivors

Saw Wai Moe and Ruth Ayisi
UNICEF Myanmar
UNICEF Myanmar/2022/Nyan Zay Htet
29 March 2022

When Sai Aung, 14, was playing with his friends in the fields in Nant Pam village in northern Shan State, he was excited to find what he thought was a toy. Tragically, it was not a toy but a landmine. While they were playing with it, the landmine exploded very close to Sai Aung.

Sai Aung’s friends rushed to get help but as the village is remote and security tense, it took six hours before Sai Aung reached the nearest hospital. By then, he was close to death. He did survive but suffered horrendous injuries which resulted in him losing his leg. Sai Aung was one of 16 children in northern Shan who survived landmine explosions last year.

One year later, Sai Aung tries to forget that traumatic day. Instead, he talks about what he can still manage to do. “I mostly spend my time babysitting my 3-year-old-brother and my 7-year-old sister. Then I play shooting marbles and rubber bands with the kids from the village. I eat my meal at 5 p.m. and I sleep whenever I feel sleepy.”

Landmines continue to kill and maim many children in Myanmar most of whom are already living a life of dire hardships due to years of conflict, then more recently the devastating fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the current crisis.

Sai Aung’s parents remember how they used to have their own cornfields. Now they work as farm labourers earning between 5,000 to 6,000 kyats per day (US$3.00). “We don’t earn enough to pay our agriculture loans,” says Sai Aung’s mother referring to the loans the family took out when they owned their own cornfields. “We also don’t earn enough to look after our children’s needs; we don’t even have a proper toilet.”

UNICEF Myanmar
UNICEF Myanmar/2022/Nyan Zay Htet
Sai Aung’s family was one of the families affected by conflict in northern Shan.

Their home now is made of bamboo and wood, and they collect water from a well in the village and wash in a nearby stream. Since the local Hsipaw Hospital closed, they have to go to Nam Lan or Lashio townships for medical assistance, about a 30-minute drive away.

To support the most vulnerable children in conflicted-affected areas including northern Shan, UNICEF works with partners to help them set up community-based child protection groups (CPGs). The CPGs receive training on child rights as well as child protection and are tasked with identifying vulnerable children and supplying their families with child protection kits and in some cases cash grants to cover certain expenses such as medical fees and transport costs. While the cash grants are primarily for child landmine survivors, vulnerable children who are in desperate need and under case management may also receive the grants. These children are selected on a case-by-case basis. Overall, more than 100,000 children have benefited from some assistance over the past year. The child protection kits include items for a child’s daily necessities such as clothes, hygiene items, blankets as well as items for his or her mental health and psychosocial wellbeing such as colouring books, crayons and storybooks. In addition to receiving a child protection kit and a cash grant, Sai Aung’s family has been connected with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to have him fitted with a prosthetic leg.

UNICEF Myanmar
UNICEF Myanmar/2022/Nyan Zay Htet
Despite all the trauma Sai Aung has been through, he remains hopeful. He wants to be a teacher and one day a headteacher.

Sai Aung’s mother says the support she had received has made a huge difference. “We are happy and grateful,” says Sai Aung’s mother. Yet she remains anxious about providing the continued care that Sai Aung needs. “We can’t afford to send him to the hospital for medical follow-ups,” she says. “We don’t have enough money and we don’t know what to do.” His mother adds that she worries about the future of all her children. “I want them to become well-educated people, helping people in need. But I’m worried we won’t be able to support them and they end up not achieving their dreams.”

Despite all he has been through, Sai Aung remains hopeful. He looks forward to returning to school whenever it opens again. At school, he says, “I used to like to play rope jumping and football.” He adds, “I love learning. My favourite subject is Myanmar. And I want to be a teacher in the future and maybe one day a headteacher.”