Restoring a sense of security for children traumatized by war

UNICEF and partners create child-friendly spaces for children fleeing violence in Myanmar

Jaime Gill
A group of children sitting on the floor in a room
UNICEF Thailand/2024
Children in the Together Learning Centre in Myanmar.
17 May 2024

“Going to the child-friendly space at the Together Learning Centre has brought me a lot of happiness and helped me make many new friends," says Ma Hnin Aye, a 12-year-old migrant from Myanmar, who has become a regular attendee at the Centre. "I love to play games there and I have a passion for drawing. It makes me happy to share these creative moments with my friends." 

Ma Hnin Aye's new-found enthusiasm is a testament to the impact child-friendly space can have on vulnerable young lives, and the importance of creating learning spaces that feel safe and secure. Ma Hnin Aye has experienced a lot of trauma in her young life including the conflict in her home country and the difficulty of fleeing and relocating to a new land. At first, Ma Hnin Aye was reluctant to leave her family to go to the Together Learning Centre and did not enjoy her first day there. However, over time she has become an enthusiastic learner and participant who credits the teachers for "helping me grow calmer in my emotional responses." 

Ma Hnin Aye is one of millions of children from Myanmar whose lives were upturned by the 2021 coup.  The Royal Thai Government has estimated that at least 22,200 Myanmar refugees have sought safety in Thailand since the coup, but many more are estimated to have moved to the border regions the two countries share. These traumatized families and children often face very challenging circumstances as they try to rebuild their lives, while being particularly vulnerable to new harms and having to catch up on large gaps in education. 

To support children like Ma Hnin Aye, UNICEF Thailand has partnered with the Help Without Frontiers Thailand Foundation to provide humanitarian support to displaced populations along the Thai Myanmar border. Child protection is one of the most urgent priorities, ensuring that children can not only begin to recover from the traumas of their past but also look to a brighter future in spaces where they feel protected and safe. Child-friendly spaces like the one described above are a crucial part of that work, and UNICEF is currently supporting the Foundation with nine fixed child-friendly spaces and four mobile ones.

In addition, in 2023 alone UNICEF supported the delivery of  hygiene kits and non-food items to more than 8,000 people, while over 4,000 people benefited from sanitation and drinking water services. 300 children received home based learning kits and more than 1,000 children and parents received psychosocial support. In order to safeguard health not only for migrant families but the wider Thai population, UNICEF facilitated routine immunization for 2,492 children and supported COVID-19 vaccinations for nearly 5,000 people.

"UNICEF is working hard with partners to provide support to displaced children, while knowing that we aren't yet doing enough to meet all of their multiple needs," says Severine Leonardi, Deputy Representative of UNICEF Thailand. "With the recent announcement by the Royal Thai Government that it is planning for a possible influx of up to 100,000 newly displaced people, UNICEF stands ready to scale up its response to ensure childrenare protected. One crucial component of this work will be child-friendly spaces, a sacred haven where children can be children again, even for a few hours, somewhere the scars of trauma can fade and they can recapture some of the innocence of childhood.".

At the Together Learning Centre, Ma Hnin Aye is surrounded by children who have been through experiences like hers and is taught by teachers who are trained in how to deal with vulnerable children. Ma Hnin Aye is particularly happy with the quality of teachers, who not only help her to catch up with her education but make her feel safe.  She is active both as a student and a participant in various activities, such as projects to reduce plastic usage.

“It has become a happy place for me,” Ma Hnin Aye. “When I am there, I feel happy, safe, and able to do exciting and fun things with the teachers and my friends.”

UNICEF Blog

The UNICEF Blog promotes children's rights and well-being, and ideas about ways to improve their lives and the lives of their families. We bring you insights and opinions from young people, our partners, child rights experts and accounts from UNICEF's staff on the ground in Thailand. The opinions expressed on the UNICEF Blog are those of the author(s) and may not necessarily reflect UNICEF's official position.

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