World’s largest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar set to reach 1 million

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(Sydney, Australia).  A situation largely forgotten by the world the refugees here live in Bangladesh, stateless and without basic human rights.

With no country prepared to offer refuge to this vast population, families are forced live in the vast and highly cramped camp in temporary shelters constructed of flimsy bamboo with mainly tarpaulin rooves. Fires are a constant and life-threatening risk, they occur on a daily basis without warning in the camp, generally from cooking fires.

Domestic violence, child labour, early marriage and child exploitation are real threats children face every day. Personal safety is listed as the number one concern of girls living in the camp. Access to education is also very limited and the refugees in the camp are heavily reliant on foreign aid and the work of aid agencies to have any kind of future.

ChildFund and their partners in Bangladesh work with the community in Cox’s Bazar to implement programs that address some of these critical issues. Their work centres on funding small community centres that provide education and practical skills training. Given the ongoing threats of natural and human disasters, they also work with local partners to help provide firefighting education and equipment.

Lamia* is just 18 years old, and she resides in camp 17 under Ukhiya Upazila, of Cox’s Bazar. She reached the Bangladesh border with her family in December 2017. Recently, she became a member of her local Disaster Management Committee (DMC) the committee meet in a community centre funded by the ChildFund Australia and New Zealand She has learnt how to identify homes at risk, how to use a fire extinguisher and numerous other skills to help defend the camp against the lethal threat of fire.

Lamia said, “I can put out fire by using a fire extinguisher. I learned how to use the fire extinguisher in our DMC meeting session.

“Not all of us have the fire extinguishers at our shelter house; however, we can respond using the one which is installed at my friend’s house. We also learned how to put out fires by using sand, water, or stones. I also share the awareness messages with the people of the community.

“Now I have learned to stay calm and deal with disasters, and I talk with other women in our community who are not members of DMC about how women can ensure their own personal safety as women and children are more at risk during disaster,” Lamia added.

Chief Development Officer Corinne Habel was in Bangladesh last month where she had the opportunity to see the camp firsthand and experience the important work that is being done to make life more manageable in the world’s largest refugee camp.

“The hardships and struggle the people in Cox’s Bazar have had to endure is astounding. In spite all of this, the children there have displayed incredible resilience and aspiration for their futures.”

“I met girls that wanted to be doctors, nurses, pilots and teachers. I was incredibly impressed with the groups of young people – both male and female – joining and leading groups to improve their communities by teaching peers, elders and younger children on topics such as the dangers of early marriage and child labour as well as how to stay safe during fires and storms. They envision a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.”

“However, while the support we have offered to this community is making a tremendous difference to many lives in this camp there is still a lot of work to do. Nowadays it is easy to feel overwhelmed every time we listen to the news, it’s important to know our work is making a difference to children in vulnerable circumstances. Based on what I saw in Bangladesh, I can tell you with certainty it is, but we need more valuable support from generous Australians to keep this critical work going.”

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*Name has been changed to protect child’s identity.

Project ACHIEVE has been launched today to support children living with a disability in the Philippines.

ChildFund with the support of The Generations Foundation, Orro, and in partnership with Community’s Hope and Initiative for Lasting Development (CHILD Inc), is implementing the new program to promote inclusive and responsive education for Filipino children living with disability.

Filipino children face many challenges, further exacerbated by the difficulties this current pandemic brings. For young people with a disability, the situation is exceptionally difficult. They are among the most vulnerable to violence, abuse, exploitation, neglect, and discrimination.

Children living with disability are often robbed of their right to learn and denied the chance to participate in matters that most affect them.  In the Philippines, there are around five million school-aged young people living with a disability, but only one child with a disability among every 300 learners in school.

The shift to virtual learning, as part of the COVID-19 response implemented by the government, has exacerbated the challenges children with disability experience in accessing inclusive and responsive education.

Project ACHIEVE (Advancement of Children’s Inclusive Education through Virtual Engagement) will reduce the equity gap for non-grade children with disabilities, both those in school and those who have been unable to enrol in mainstream education in the Western Visayas Region of the Philippines.

The three-year project will ensure that young learners with disabilities have improved literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional learning skills. This will be realised through the following activities:

  • 300 school-age children with disabilities will be given access to appropriate content, platforms, and assistive devices for distance and blended learning.
  • 150 parents and caregivers will be equipped with the tools and knowledge needed to support their children’s continued learning.
  • 50 Special Education (SPED) teachers will be trained to deliver a curriculum designed to implement the Basic Education-Learning Continuity Plan, developed by the Department of Education (DepEd)to ensure children’s rights to education are upheld during the pandemic.
  • 5 ChildFund partner communities will take part in community-managed inclusive education programs and services.

The DepEd’s Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan, developed in response to the pandemic and resulting in a sudden shift in learning methodologies, recommends some adaptations for learners with disabilities, mainly in the form of learning materials and assistive devices.

“Project ACHIEVE is an opportunity to empower children with disabilities and break down barriers that prevent them from accessing equitable learning opportunities and participating in their communities.

“However, for a learning environment to be genuinely inclusive and responsive to their needs, there should be a deeper understanding of the obstacles to their participation,” said Dong Wana, ChildFund Philippines Director for Program and Sponsorship.

Mr Wana added: “With the support of CHILD Inc, our local partner in the Visayas, we can ensure that those children in our target areas, and who are living with disability, can have improved literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional learning skills.”

Ms Katharine Walters, Chief Impact Officer of The Generations Foundation said: “We know that children with disabilities, especially those who belong to marginalized groups due to economic, social, and cultural factors, can face significant barriers in accessing education.

“The pandemic has only exacerbated this inequality, which is why we are partnering with ChildFund on this whole-of-community program approach.”

Mr Rodd Cunico, Group CEO of Orro said: “With operations in the Philippines, as well as Australia, we are delighted to be able to support improved access to quality education for Filipino children with disabilities.”

He added: “As a digital infrastructure company, we see Project ACHIEVE’s use of appropriate and scalable technology platforms as a key contributor to inclusive education, both during the pandemic and beyond.”

ChildFund Philippines and The Generations Foundation, along with other advocates and champions, will continuously work to foster an environment where children living with disabilities have the support and tools they need to become lifelong learners and thrive.