SURVIVING ATTACKS AND GUNFIRE A ROHINGYA GIRL FINDS NEW HOPE THROUGH EDUCATION
Janat Ara is a survivor. She’s a dreamer. She’s a unique symbol of hope and resilience in a world gone mad.
In her short 12-year life, the Rohingya refugee has lost both her parents. She’s hidden in the woods for 15 days to escape bandits that were reportedly threatening to rape and abduct young girls in her native Myanmar. She’s been attacked by gunfire.
Around 725,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since the ethnic violence, which some have labeled a crime against humanity, started in August 2017. The new arrivals and asylum seekers are putting a strain on local communities and resources and around 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance today. An estimated 54 per cent of these refugees are under 18. That means close to 400,000 children are nationless, lack consistent access to education, and live in makeshift, overcrowded camps in the Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh.
While much work is being done to protect these children by both the government of Bangladesh as well as international donor agencies, local non-profits and the United Nations System, the camps are still a dangerous place. Girls are particularly at risk to sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. And malnutrition, disease and unsafe water pose health risks for children and adults alike.
A SENSE OF HOPE
Out of this chaos, a sense of hope and redemption is emerging for children like Janat Ara. It all starts in the new learning centers where children receive daily instruction through an investment backed by Education Cannot Wait and implemented through UNICEF, Save the Children, Friendship and BRAC.
“I love the learning center. I have been through a lot back in Myanmar. When we learn and play here, I feel peace in my heart, and forget what has happened to me,” said Janat Ara (whose name has been changed for her own protection). “When I grow up, I want to work at an NGO or at the hospital. My teacher also said that he sees that I could become a teacher. He has suggested that I maybe can join an NGO when I am older, to teach other children Burmese.”
The first educational emergency response is making a real difference for the 400,000 Rohingya children and youth and host community children that have been impacted by this crisis, exceeding most targets by 200 per cent.
In all, the fast-acting 12-month Education for Children of Rohingya Refugees and Host Communities in Cox’s Bazar investment has built more than 270 learning centers to date, and is on track to complete an additional 50 more to reach investment targets. According to the latest reports (December 2018), over 25,000 refugee children aged 4 to 14 have received access to safe and protective learning environments – that is three times more than the number of children initially targeted by the project. Additionally, more than 270 sets of early childhood development and school-in-a-box kits have been shared.
The investment embraced innovative and flexible learning models to mobilize fast education responses, including using podcasts and video conferences to train teachers in the camps. Along with other innovative measures, this enabled more children and youth to be reached than originally planned.
Community involvement is key in a complex context like the Rohingya crisis. To encourage involvement from parents and community members, outreach activities have reached close to 20,00 people with important messages advocating for school enrollment, hygiene and sanitation, and the importance of a safe learning environment for children and youth.
Girls and children with disabilities often fall behind in crisis situations like this. More than 50 percent of the students enrolled since the beginning of the project are girls. Total access to education for girls and adolescent girls reached more than 12,800 girls, that is nearly three times more than the original number targeted by the programme. To encourage enrollment and retention of girls, the recruitment and training of female teachers has been highly encouraged. In all some 546 teachers have been trained through the investment, over 85 per cent of whom are female. The project has also identified 620 children with disabilities in these camps with the aim to reach at least 95% of them by June 2019.
Janat Ara’s Aunt Halima has taken on the responsibility of caring for the young dreamer and her sister.
“We came here in March 2018. Even after the outbreak of violence we tried to stay. But then armed groups started tormenting us. They wouldn’t let us go out at night. They started taking away girls and young women, and raping and killing them. When the threats become too much to bear, all of us in our village decided that we would come to Bangladesh,” said Halima. “I worry a lot about Janat Ara, because she doesn’t have parents. The children had nothing to do when we arrived, and I thought – if Allah brought these children to me, then there must be something special about them. So, I registered them into the learning center.”
Since starting school Janat Ara has made new friends, started learning English and is finding a “new normal” after enduring a perilous and traumatic journey. Her Aunt reports that “she has changed a lot since being here and she seems happy now.”
Humanitarian crisis like this need more than one-off responses. Working with the Government of Bangladesh, UNICEF, UNESCO and UNHCR, Education Cannot Wait launched a new US$12 million grant in November 2018 to benefit an additional 88,500 refugee and host community children and adolescents. With efforts to mobilize resources from multiple partners and donors, the multi-year grant will connect with other initiatives to reach more than half a million refugee and host community and youth, and 9800 teachers over the coming years.
With continued support, class sizes are going down, and students will benefit from more time with more highly trained teachers in the learning centers. As new learning centers are built and reorganized, student contact time will increase from two to four hours, and class sizes will drop from 105 students per learning center to around 80.
It’s a powerful step forward for girls and boys caught in this cycle of violence, migration, crisis and fear. For Janat Ara and others like her, more needs to be done, and Education Cannot Wait is working to bring multiple partners to work together towards a lasting solution to protect these children, provide them an education, and a safer path to become productive and essential members of society. Through stronger partnerships and collaboration, we can address this pressing crisis.