A whistle sounds and a group of young girls begin their warm-up,
running around a small field outside the local school in a village in Myanmar’s
They are gearing up to play a friendly game of volleyball, a sight
unseen before in this small remote community.
Most people in the community believe that girls and sports are
“badly mismatched”, says the girls’ head coach Su. “But we wanted to show that girls
can participate in sports.”
Su and her team are taking part in a ChildFund project that is
helping to empower young girls in disadvantaged communities in Myanmar, through
sport and leadership and life skills training.
“At first, playing volleyball was physically challenging for the
girls, but over time their bodies and minds strengthened,” Su says.
The girls participating in the project are between 12 and 17 years
old, an age group particularly vulnerable in rural and remote communities like
Su’s to becoming isolated, dropping out of school and being forced into the
workforce to help support their families.
Poverty and a lack of jobs and opportunities to develop skills in
their community means many girls end up leaving school early and migrating to
find work in neighbouring countries such as Thailand. In these jobs they are
often abused and exploited by their employees, or trafficked.
It was around midnight when Judite began
feeling a pain that she had never felt before. The mother of six was heavily
pregnant with her youngest child Marcelo, but this feeling was different to any
labour pains she had experienced previously.
“It was the worst pain,” Judite says. “I was
She asked for Odete, the Community Health
Volunteer trained by ChildFund in her village, who immediately called an
ambulance to take her to the nearest health centre, an hour and half away by
car through windy, dirt roads.
Judite (pictured above with Marcelo and
daughter Zebifania, age 3) gave birth to Marcelo in the ambulance with the help
of a midwife but she had lost a lot of blood.
It was a terrifying experience but at least
she had been in the hands of a professional.
In Judite’s village, in the remote mountainous
areas of Lautem municipality in Timor-Leste, a lack of health facilities,
doctors, nurses and midwives means when medical emergencies occur they can be
fatal. Women in Judite’s village traditionally give birth in their homes with
the assistance of a “daya”, a birth attendant who is experienced in delivering
babies but who does not have a medical background or formal training in
Judite gave birth to five of her children at
home with the help of a daya. But with Marcelo, she wanted a doctor or midwife
present. She had learnt from her previous experiences and from Odete that
giving birth at home without a trained medical professional was unsafe and could
put her life and her baby’s life at risk, especially when complications occurred.