February 1st marks the second anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar. As of 23 January 2023 (UNHCR), the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) reached to 1.2 million since the coup – it previously was 330,000. The ongoing crisis has disrupted access to safe, inclusive, and quality education for children and youth with the potential of creating a lost generation.
The Universal Declaration for Human Rights outlines 30 rights and freedoms that belong to all people including the right to education. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is committed to ensuring that children who are forced to flee their homes and communities are not deprived of their right to education and their path to a hopeful and productive future. Education provides stability and a sense of normalcy; it engenders hope while preparing refugees to meet future challenges.
Today, children in Myanmar cannot access basic learning, let alone higher education, due to the current conflict. Education is disrupted, schools are attacked, and many are closed. Children are forced to flee from one place to another making it nearly impossible to go to school. Without the ability to exercise their basic rights and fundamental freedoms, they will not be able to determine their own future.
The Story of Tinwin: The Transformative Power of the Storybook
Tinwin, a seven-year-old boy, lives in a temporary site fleeing from the life-threatening violence occurring in his hometown. While the temporary site is called “temporary”, he has no idea how long this momentariness of fear and displacement would last. He and his family have been living in this temporary shelter for already a year.
After he arrived at the temporary site, he did not want to go to school because he was afraid that his family would run away. When a child has no idea what’s going to happen to their life and family tomorrow, it is very difficult to trust that everything will be fine. He also really missed his home and his friends in the neighborhood.
Amidst the distress, what could calm Tinwin down is the storybook. The colorful book with images could bring him to another fantasy world. A place where there is no fear. Tinwin usually asks his mother to read out the stories for him. The storybook is what makes him smile.
“He will ask me to read books, and if he likes the story, he asks me to read again and again, and I have to read it repeatedly,” says his mother.
Over time, his mother has observed positive changes in him. He’s no longer afraid to go to school and sometimes brings friends home to read books together.
The mother, a person who read the storybook for Tinwin, observed a big change in Tinwin’s mind. Every time they are exploring the imaginary world, Tinwin is calm, happy, and has no worries. The storybook is not only important for Tinwin himself but also for his family, who really love and care about his feelings. Tinwin started to bring friends home to read the storybook and play. It is difficult for a child to think of the future when there is no sense of safety and certainty. However, Tinwin has a strong belief in his dream. Tinwin wants to be a doctor.
“I want to put medicines to the wound like a medic.”
The story of Tinwin reflects how much education can impact the life of a child and why education should not be under attack in times of conflict. Rather, investments in school materials, infrastructure, and teachers are critical for the people of Myanmar and all children and youth affected by conflict and crisis.
JRS calls for displaced children inside and outside Myanmar to have access to humanitarian assistance including safe, inclusive, uninterrupted, and quality education programs. The shooting, shelling, and bombing of schools and community buildings must cease immediately. The lack of attention from the international community has prolonged this crisis and an immediate solution through peaceful political mechanisms must be achieved.
After two years of violence and destruction, the people of Myanmar deserve more and must not be forgotten.
This story was originally published by JRS Asia Pacific.