Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Move over, Avengers. The world has a new band of super heroes and they operate out of a small village on Myanmar’s border with Thailand.

Zay and his friends have formed a ChildFund-supported group called the Super Heroes, whose role is to promote children’s rights and help protect children in their village.

“We chose that name because we are the super heroes to protect our village,” says 13-year-old, Zay.

Groups like the Super Heroes are part of a three-year child protection project in Dawei that aims to strengthen community-based child protection systems.

Myanmar has significantly high rates of violence against children. Zarni, who oversees the child protection project in Dawei, says much of this stems from a lack of awareness about children’s rights.

“Physical abuse is prevalent in Dawei,” Zarni says.

“The main reason behind the problem is awareness. There are two parts. The caregivers don’t have the awareness and the children themselves don’t have the awareness.”

The project aims to increase community understanding by conducting sessions about children’s rights and child protection, delivering pamphlets, and setting up posters and billboards.

ChildFund also provides communities with a list of relevant child protection service providers so people know who to contact when they witness or experience violence or abuse.

“It’s effective,” Zarni says. “There are more informants than before. And there are more identified child cases than before.”

In order to strengthen these community-based child protection mechanisms, Child Protection Groups (CPG) and Child Groups (CG) are formed in the target villages.

Some people might get to work by cars or motorbikes, others by public transport. For Than, it’s a walk down a narrow and muddy road. During the wet season, between May and October, it’s a battle through floodwaters.

The 28-year-old single father takes the two-kilometre walk from his home in Buchai village, in remote southeast Myanmar, each day to his farm, where he grows a variety of vegetables to sell at the markets.

The farmer’s life is challenging, he says, as his source of income is largely dependent on the weather and climate. The past year has been more difficult than usual, with poor weather affecting crop yields.

“The weather has not been good this year,” Than says. “My business is not doing well.”

For five months of the year, during the dry season, he works at a rubber plantation to supplement his income so he can raise his six-year-old son Hein.

Supporters of ChildFund’s Gifts for Goods program have been helping to alleviate the difficulty that farmers such as Than and their families in rural Myanmar face, particularly during the wet season, by providing a variety of seeds to diversify and boost farmers’ incomes.

Than, who grows snake gourds, long beans, chillies and okra on his farm, received cucumber seeds, which grow well at this time of the year in Myanmar.

“I planted all the cucumber seeds I received from ChildFund,” he says. “I have also already sold some of the cucumbers.

“I am happy that we have been provided the seeds because there are some people in my village who can’t afford to buy the seeds for their farms.”

When he makes a profit from selling his vegetables at the market, he puts some money away for Hein’s future.

While Than left school after Grade 4 to help his parents, who were also farmers, he wants a different life for his son.

“I’ve been farming for eight years and my dad has been doing it for 20 years,” Than says. “Our lives haven’t changed.

“I don’t want my son to be a farmer like me. I want him to become an educated person. He said he wants to be an engineer so I’ll try my best to get him the education he wants.”