Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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 Tanintharyi region.

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 frightened.”

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 midwifery.

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.