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In addition to being subjected to multiple natural disasters, Myanmar faces extreme poverty, 90% of the population living on less than one dollar a day. The inhabitants of rural areas are hit especially hard, and an exodus to the big cities is often the solution preferred. Many parents, confronted by destitution, believe they have no other choice than to abandon their children to cope by themselves. Obliged to quit school, these kids find themselves left to their own devices on the streets, forced to do odd jobs to meet their daily needs. The Myanmar authorities reckon that these youngsters should not be living on the streets and so they are frequently placed in State institutions without social or legal representation. Unless claimed by their parents, they are taken away from the streets in this way, but are forlorn and far from their families. Terre des hommes wants to break with this custom by creating alternatives to these detention centres that are far from being adapted to the good development of the youngsters.
A home rather than a detention centre
The project was set up in the northern regions of Rangoon and Mandalay. Lasting from January 2012 to December 2014, it aims at reintegrating youngsters from State institutions back in their families or communities. Terre des hommes believes it is better for the good development of a child if he can grow up within his own family. However, this reintegration has a chance of being sustainable only if it goes hand in hand with the youngster’s return to school or if the older ones have the chance to get job training.
In daily collaboration with the Department of Social Affairs, Tdh gets down to developing a relationship of trust with the youngsters in the centres. Many of them are totally cut off from their place of origin, which is often far away from the big cities like Rangoon or Mandalay. The teams on the ground favour dialogue and patience to help the young people trace their origins. Thanks to a few notable words and by recalling a few memories, they can collect important information to help in finding the child’s family. The experience from this project has demonstrated that the earlier the teams are in contact with a youngster after his arrival in the centre, the better are his chances of finding his family again.
Once the representatives from Tdh and the Department of Social Affairs have gathered enough information, they can start searching for the family, and assess the chances for school and community integration. When the youngster has been reintegrated, the teams on the ground go on with a follow-up for at least three months. Each follow-up is done individually, and depends on the capacity of the family to take care of their child, or of the community to support him.
In the meantime the work does not focus solely on the child. Indeed, when a family is in great difficulty and one of its children is found on the streets, his brothers and sisters are equally at risk of joining him there. For this reason, at the moment of the youngster’s reintegration, Tdh recommends coming to the aid of the other children, giving social support to the families concerned by helping with medical treatment or by proposing income-generating activities.
The place of a child is in its own family
From now until the end of the project in 2014, Tdh plans to help 420 children currently in institutions run by the State, as well as 2,100 of their siblings. In a country where 32% of the population is under 18, beyond this simple target of reintegrating the children within the community, Tdh hopes to demonstrate the social benefits of every child returning to school.
As Robert Millman, Tdh delegate in Rangoon, recalls, the cause in Myanmar does not stop at the border of this Asian State, but concerns all the parents from the four quarters of the earth. “If your child disappears from one day to the next, you want to get him back more than anything and to know how to bring him safely home again. Terre des hommes fights to reunite children with their families, to give the children and adults a new start, to convince them that together they can do great things in the future. This is the wish of every parent, and this is what Terre des hommes is doing its best to do in Myanmar.”