The brightest smiles

Today is our second day in Yangon in Myanmar, but the first day to see the programmes. This place, for me, is mysterious.The buildings are old and different from those in Hong Kong. This is all I know about Myanmar.

Our first stop is visiting the Myanmar head office of Save the Children. Here, the Head of Programmes, Thanda Kyaw, and their project manager Yin Yin Chaw gave us a briefing and introduction of the current status of child rights and their child protection work in Myanmar.

Head of Programme of Save the Children, Thanda Kyaw, gave us a detailed briefing before we meet the children - by Gillian

Head of Programmes of Save the Children, Thanda Kyaw, gives us a detailed briefing before we meet the children – by Gillian Lau

After that, we went to a community learning centre to meet with the children’s group, child protection groups and some former child soldiers. When we got out from the car, we were greeted by the children and group members. They welcomed us with big smiles, fresh roses, banners and yummy local cakes.

We were welcomed by the big bright smiles - by Gillian

We were welcomed by big bright smiles – by Gillian Lau

On this IWitness trip, I expect to witness the impact and how IKEA Foundation and Save the Children have helped children in Myanmar. We started with the first group, which is formed by eight children aged 12-17 years old. This group is a mixed group of kids who are in school, out of school or working, as well as children who have survived being trafficked. My first impression was that they were very friendly and cheerful. They send out a very positive vibe, which our entire group could feel and it touched us deeply. When we started the discussion, I found them all very eager to learn about children’s rights. The children themselves were, to my surprise, very passionate to know more about children’s law. The children’s group try their very best to convince parents and children in the community about why children’s rights are so important.

What impressed me the most is that they are very determined about what they want to be in the future. For example, some wanted to be a doctor and provide free medical service for children. Another child wants to set up a factory where children can work and learn, but which will never violate children’s rights, and will earn profit for the neighbourhood.

Compared to the children in Hong Kong, the place where I am from, this group of children are much more mature, confident and positive. Although they sometimes fail, they never give up and keep working on saving the other children.

Members of the Children Group are cherish to join the gathering - by Gillian Lau

Members of the children’s group are eager to join the gathering – by Gillian Lau

The next group was formed by seven former child soldiers aged between 15-24 years old. When they were sharing their life stories, they opened up and it sounded like they were telling some other’s people’s stories. But the facts remain, they had not volunteered to be child soldiers. In some cases, they were lied to and sent to rural areas and forced to join the state army. They suffered from life-threatening issues – like losing their lives, not able to go home anymore, being locked up and escaping, getting caught again and punished. When they are rescued or escaped, and are back in the community, Save the Children supports them to start a new life by teaching them life skills – such as giving them a trishaw (a three-wheeled bicycle for transporting passengers) to start a new living – and also providing psychological counselling programmes. With the help from Save the Children, they are confident to stand up, share their stories and raise awareness of child soldiers.

After hearing the unbelievable stories from the former child soldiers, we met with the child protection group, which is formed by 15 representatives selected by Save the Children to address child protection issues in the communities. In Myanmar, there is no child protection mechanism in local communities. In order to address this gap and encourage communities to enforce children’s rights, child protection groups target their response and prevent child protection issues. Membership is voluntary and they are usually formed by community leaders, authorities, teachers, women’s associations and parents. To support the child protection group, Save the Children provides them with numerous trainings, including leadership, communication, management, problem solving, risk management, law and legal procedures, and positive discipline skills.

I still remember the conversation we had with the children’s group. The children were so happy to share their stories and eager to join the gathering. When we were about to leave, the children and everyone else were eager to take selfies with each other. Their hugs are so warm and intimate. Their smiles and roses will always stay in my mind.

The children are happy receiving the small gifts by IKEA - by Gillian Lau

The children are happy receiving the small gifts by IKEA – by Gillian Lau

Their smiles and roses will always stay in my mind - by Gillian Lau

Their smiles and roses will always stay in my mind – by Gillian Lau

Myanmar, here we come!

I will soon be heading to Myanmar – some call it Burma – the second-largest country in Southeast Asia, where women of the ethnic minority tribe Kayan Lahwi are well known for wearing brass coil neck rings, appearing to lengthen their necks.

However, I am not going for vacation. Together with my co-workers from IKEA Hong Kong, we are going on an IWitness trip with Save the Children to Myanmar to witness how the IKEA Foundation is providing a better everyday life for children.

Myanmar, here we come! - by Flora Chan

Myanmar, here we come! – by Flora Chan

Myanmar’s population of over 50 million makes it the 40th largest country in the world. Despite Myanmar’s natural wealth in jade and gems, oil, natural gas and other mineral resources, it has a low level of human development – ranking 150 out of 187 countries – according to the Human Development Index as of 2013.

Officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar - commonly shortened to Myanma – is bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand - by Flora Chan

Officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar – commonly shortened to Myanmar – is bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand – by Flora Chan

Children in Myanmar face significant child rights violations with exploitation, such as discrimination, forced migration, trafficking, and underage recruitment into armed forces, issues that are experienced especially by minority children and youth. Children’s access to quality education, adequate healthcare and economic security is increasingly threatened.

Getting ready: Save the Children’s Hong Kong office gave us an introduction briefing including the information of Myanmar and the current children projects there - by Flora Chan

Getting ready: Save the Children’s Hong Kong office gave us an introduction briefing including information about Myanmar and the current children’s projects there – by Flora Chan

In the next few days, we will follow Save the Children Myanmar’s team to meet with different children’s groups and local child-protection groups from different project sites, plus the head office of Save the Children in Myanmar. I look forward to sharing this journey with as many co-workers and friends as I can. Stay tuned!

Ready, set, go! - by Flora Chan

Ready, set, go! – by Flora Chan


How Save the Children protects children from exploitation in Myanmar

Our next group of IWitness Global Citizens is travelling to Myanmar to visit some incredible projects we fund through the Soft Toys for Education campaign. Thanda Kyaw, who coordinates Save the Children’s project Helping to Reduce Children’s Vulnerability to Exploitation, is here to explain some of the hurdles Myanmar children have to overcome.



One-third of Myanmar’s 53 million people live in extreme poverty. The country possesses vast natural resources but is ranked only 149 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index. As the country opens up to the world, it continues to face a host of social and economic challenges, including poverty, a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, and strained health and education systems.

Children in Myanmar face significant dangers. Minority children and youth are especially vulnerable to discrimination, forced migration, trafficking and underage recruitment into the armed forces. Children are targeted because they are easily manipulated, cheap, easier to control (and abuse), and because they look to adults to protect them. Children have told us that abuse, discrimination and lack of inclusive opportunities for disabled children are all key issues. Mechanisms for protecting children against exploitation are in their early stages, and that is why child protection is a top priority for Save the Children.

Children playing in a rural village

Children playing in a rural village

We have tackled many of these issues by helping communities understand the long-term detrimental effect that abuse, exploitation and neglect can have on children.

Save the Children’s project Helping to Reduce Children’s Vulnerability to Exploitation, implemented with support from the IKEA Foundation for three years, is helping children and adults in three Myanmar townships better protect those around them.

Khin Khin, 8 years old

Khin Khin, 8 years old

Over the course of the project, there has been a 172% rise in the number of sexual abuse cases reported in our project areas, highlighting increased awareness of the crime. To prevent sexual abuse happening in the first place, we have formed and trained child-protection groups made up of community members. These groups have run sessions with mothers and children on how to stay safe, advocated that law enforcement officers control sales of pornographic DVDs, and lobbied parents to stop children’s access to porn sites on mobile phones and to increase privacy at home. And, thanks to our working closely with the local justice system, officers are getting better at managing children’s cases.

by Athit Perawongmetha/ Save The Children)

by Athit Perawongmetha/ Save The Children

Plus, over 700 children without birth registration have now received the right documentation, so their identities are recognised and protected. Through our school programmes, we have seen the number of complaints about corporal punishment drop by one-third. To ensure that children and their communities are aware of underage recruitment of child soldiers and how to report it, we have conducted 200 information sessions, resulting in 20 suspected cases being reported.

Save the Children Myanmar-Child Protection Team-2012-2

Save the Children in Myanmar is honoured and privileged to undertake such a complex initiative to improve the quality of life for so many children. It’s a noble task, one that we hope to achieve step by step every day. None of it, however, would have been possible without the huge support and resources that the IKEA Foundation have offered to us and, in the end, to the children.

Goodbye Dhaka

On our last day, we visited Save the Children’s implementing partner the Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation (BPF) in Mirpur, Dkaka. Their main objective is equal rights, opportunities and dignity for children with disabilities and disadvantages.

As soon as we arrive, we get a warm welcome from the children and the team with lots of flowers and handshakes. I don’t think I’ve ever met so many nice people in one week. Over 460 children go to school here; 350 of them are disabled and they all have a buddy who supports them when they all gather in the hallway. Time for their morning exercise and sing their national song. The building that we are visiting today was built in 2009 and funded by the government. It is fully equipped, and we get a tour through the whole centre after an explanation of the organisation from Shanim Ferdous, the executive director.

Welcome - by Saskia Rejons

Welcome – by Saskia Rejhons

In between tea is served, without cookies like we are used to but with guava, cucumber and aluchop, a small snack with potato and vegetables. Everywhere we go, the people put so much effort in their cooking. Rice, fish, chicken, lots of vegetables—I can’t get enough of the food here. During tea we meet Sukana, the founder of BPF, 86 years old. She still visits often to meet the children.

Cooking - by Saskia Rejons

Cooking – by Saskia Rejhons

Before we enter the classrooms, we walk down the hallway where mothers are waiting in line with their children. All with their own story. The children are tested here on neurodevelopment, psychological, intelligence and mobility.

In the room we meet Kamroen Nahar a senior psychologist. They are testing Ciam. Ciam is two years old and has multiple disabilities. Her mother receives instructions that she can apply at home. After three months, she will come back here to create a follow-up plan. Ciam is in good hands. It’s also good to know that nobody will be rejected, even when the families are not able to afford it.

English class - by Saskia Rejons

English class – by Saskia Rejhons

All the teachers, staff and children are proud, and they want to show us every part of the building and with what kind of materials they are using. There is even a cuddle room, a space where objects, images, colours and sounds tickle the senses of the children to make them calm and put them at ease.

Classroom - by Katarina

Classroom – by Katarina

In one of the last classrooms we enter I meet a girl. Even though it’s in sign language, it’s quite easy to communicate with her. She is making a drawing and explains to me what she has drawn and that she is so happy to meet me. After a great performance from the children, all the pictures have been taken, hands have been shaken, hugs have been given and it’s time to say goodbye. When I take a last look, I see her blowing me a hand kiss.

Drawing - by Petra Hans

Drawing – by Petra Hans

I can’t believe it has been the last visit; it all went by so quickly. It has been a great experience, and we met a lot of amazing, powerful and inspirational people. Their strength and perseverance often made me feel small.

One last visit to the office of Save the Children, where we have a debriefing to discuss and evaluate the week. I think I speak for the whole group when I say thank you to everybody who participated and shared all those unforgettable moments. Bangladesh and the people we have met, you have captured our hearts.

Meet the children!

6:00 a.m., another day in Bangladesh. It is still quiet when I wake up. The orchestra of horns has not started yet; the sun is up and so is the temperature.

Today we have a long day ahead. We will travel 40 kilometers north-west to Dhamrai, a rural area outside Dhaka. It will take approximately three hours. So after a good breakfast, we are off.

Dhaka is wakening and traffic is stuck already, but after 1.5 hours we reach the rural area of Dhaka. Beautiful green fields, water, blue skies and a lot of building brick ovens dominates the view. We see children swimming in the ponds next to the water lilies.

At 10:30 we arrive at the Kallyni inclusive school, a nonformal school for able-bodied and disabled children. This school is run by BPF (Bangladesh Prothiboudhi Foundation), one of the partners of Save the Children.

Warm welcome - by Sabina Vis

Warm welcome – by Sabina Vis

It is so impressive. They wait for us in line, girls left, boys right, and salute when we walk by. We get a flower chain and a bouquet of flowers. These are handed over by children with a disability. And then I break, tears just start to flow. And not because it is so sad, but it is so beautiful. These children are part of society. They are integrated in mainstream education and not hidden in the home. And they are so proud and joyful that we are there. It is overwhelming.

The girl who made me cry - by Petra Hans

The girl who made me cry – by Petra Hans

After a real coconut milk refreshment, we go outside, where the children are waiting to perform their national song for us. After this everybody goes back to class and we walk down to the “clinic”. Just an open space with a roof on top where an educated psychologist and speech therapist work with the disabled children and their parents. One girl is being assessed to see how she scores on the Denver test. She is 3.5 years old, but has the ability of 24-month-old. Based on this assessment, the family will be helped to ask for services from the government to help her develop in a good way. All these women are so determined and passionate to help these children in a good way.

And then we enter a room that is only 3 by 3 metres. Nine metres squared, one physiotherapist and nine mothers with their disabled children. She teaches the mothers to interact with their children and practise with them, massage them to get stronger muscles and improve their speech. We meet Laxmi Rani. She is 3.5 years old and until 2 years ago, she could only lay on her back. Thanks to BPF she can sit, stand up and even walk now. This is so impressive to see. She looks so proud when we applaud her.

Then we meet Mukta Akter. Mukta is 22 and disabled. She limps when walking. She started in the school when she was a young girl. She went to school till grade 5, went to a mainstream high school, and got enrolled in university. Now she has her bachelor’s degree and teaches in school herself. Because of these stories I feel proud that we, through the IKEA Foundation, can make a difference for these children.

Girl in class - by Sabina Vis

Girl in class – by Sabina Vis

They also planned a home visit for us. We did one some days ago, so I was set for the same kind of experience, but it was not. We drove up into this little rural village, were no tourist has ever been, I am sure. We got out of the car and walked through little cramped houses with dirt on the floor and a cow only one metre away, to meet with Ismut Ara. Ismut is 13, blind and severely disabled, mentally and physically. When the community workers went door to door to do a survey, they found her naked and tied up all alone in the house. Her father had left the family, her mother was working in the field and nobody took care of her during the day. You cannot imagine this when you see her today. She is so cheerful and happy to meet with us. She is laughing, waving and making all these sounds.

BPF helped her mother get government help for Ismut. This means she gets 300 taka (€3) per month. Since this is not enough, she also got a goat to support her in her own livelihood, as well as training on how to stimulate and develop Ismut.

The whole village is gathered around the house to meet us. And this was not all. We went to the mainstream school where children are enrolled when they finish Kallyni school. They did a roleplay for us. We were watching the play and the rest of the school was watching us. It is funny, at first the children are a bit reserved, but when we left, we had to shake hands, tell our names and got a big goodbye wave party.

Children at school - by Sabina Vis

Children at school – by Sabina Vis

Finally time for lunch. They know how to cook here. Even the plain white rice is delicious. We keep saying how good the good is, but for them it is nothing. Really easy. It is heartwarming to see how they want to please us. It is 14:45 when we get in the car again to go to the next partner. But not before we have a dance performance and gifts and a lot of pictures taken.

Waving goodbye - by Saskia Rejhons

Waving goodbye – by Saskia Rejhons

I am exhausted. All these children, all their stories. I need some time to digest. I get some time in the car, because we end up in a political parade and traffic is stuck again.

Around 16:30 we are at NFOWD: National Forum of Organisations Working with the Disabled, a network that brings all NGOs together to cooperate and get changes made at the government level. The presentation is really interesting, but tough, since it has been a long day already. I am hopeful for the future of Bangladesh, that organisations like this are determined to make things happen within the government so the disabled children get attention on that level as well.

At 18:00 we get back in the car. Again in a traffic jam and now my limit is reached. I really dislike this today, and I just want to be back at the hotel. But I cannot, so I sit back, look out of the window and think about all the amazing people I met today!


“Thank you, thank you, Red, Yellow, Green … Now I know what the traffic lights means”

Our third day in Dhaka was dedicated to visiting socialization and learning centres for children. These centres exist thanks to IKEA’s support (through the Foundation but also thanks to the Soft Toys for Education campaign’s sales in each store) and the common work between Save the Children and CSID (Centre for Services and Information on Disabilities) in the area. Three socialization centers are in place in Dhaka, and 20 learning centres are directly linked to them.

In learning centres, each year, a maximum of 25 children can apply and follow the 5 grades education programme. The education centre we visited today was launched in January 2013. Children who have never gone to school or who dropped out started Grade 1 in 2013. Now they are in Grade 4 (each grade is studied for six months), and they will be able to pass their final examination in 2015. Classroom sessions are divided in two, so 40 to 50 children who previously received no formal primary education can obtain their final examination. Some of the children we met this morning keep on working as well but prefer that we remember that they are students, as students are more privileged children.

Photo by Saskia

Photo by Saskia

Between the ages of 7 and 14, the class is managed by a referent teacher. Most of the time the teacher lives in the community very close to the school and earns 600 taka (about 6 euros) per month. Her (90% are female) tasks are to develop a lesson plan, manage administrative topics, follow up with home visits, meet the parents… In her class, the teacher is supported by four group leaders. These children assume some responsibilities like ensuring that everyone in their group brings their books, participates and learn their lessons. Absanna (12 years old), Jaba (9), Jasmine (10) and Fahima (10) are proud of their role and present us with their team members and the name of their group (usually linked to Bangladeshi symbols, such as flowers or animals).

We attended a lesson this morning on traffic rules. Based on colours and a text in English, the objectives were to practice English but also to make children aware of traffic dangers. On the roads, traffic is real chaos and is one of the most important drivers of accidents.  It was a main part of our security briefing when we arrived!

Photo by Carole

Photo by Carole

After this first visit, where children, teachers and community always welcomed us with smiles, we moved to another place: the socialization centre. Their goals are to create a place for children who have not succeed in applying to school and offer them the possibilities to learn hygiene principles, to draw, to learn dancing, to meet each other and to create friendships. Compared to the street, it’s also a secure place for children where they can find sanitation and water access to take a shower.

Photo by Carole

Photo by Carole

Photo by Sabina

Photo by Sabina

For older children, it’s also a place where they can learn a job. We meet young girls who were learning fabric painting. Their job was so great and colourful!

As in each visit, children are so proud to share with us their knowledge and skills.
We had several demonstrations of dance, songs, hygiene rules and reading.

Photo by Carole

Photo by Carole

We ended the day in meeting the founder of CSID, who also has a disability. His team’s objective is to give the same chance to disabled children and to change society’d mindset about them.

A long journey … but what important work already done!

This third day, as before, is just a lesson for us. Certainly our actions help them to improve their lives, but they certainly do not realise how they are also changing ours…

1 million Rickshaws in Dhaka

As soon as we leave the airport I get a flashback, my first impression is the same that I had a few years ago in India. It’s India but back in time… It’s extremely busy and during the drive to the hotel I hold my breath. Dhaka’s infrastructure doesn’t really match with the amount of rickshaws, cars, trucks and people in this city and that’s why traveling from A to B is quit a challenge…. You can hardly find a car that isn’t damaged. Loads of people crossing over whenever they feel like, wherever they feel like and everybody is incredibly happy with their HORN…. :)

The street view is amazing, I could take a chair, sit down somewhere and watch everything pass by for a whole day. Everyday life goes on here.. Rickshaws drop their passengers on the street, an old man is driving by on his bike with his incredible load of freight. Fruit, vegetables, herbs and chickens are sold along the roadside. We are in Bangladesh! You prepare yourself but still it’s overwhelming.

Bike with freight - by Sabina Vis

Bike with freight – by Sabina Vis

After a good night sleep (after being awake for 40 hours) we started the day by visiting the Save the Children head office. We got a presentation about the organization and how they work closely together with the IKEA foundation. Their goal is to actualize children’s rights to a healthy and secure childhood with access to quality education. It’s a lot of information and I’m shocked by the numbers. For example that sexual harassment is so common and that 50% of the disabled children here are abused.

After lunch we visit the Society for Underprivileged Families (SUF) An organization that focus on educational level. This means classes like Bangla, English, math and geographic. After that they prepare the children and young adults on vocational level. They choose a profession like sewing, electronics or IT and when they graduate they get help with applying and getting a job. After a short introduction of the founder and director we get the chance to visit the children and students. Everywhere we appear we get curious looks and waves. My name “Sabina” creates a lot of buzz, her it’s a common name and Sabina Yasmin is a famous singer. Luckily for me they don’t ask me to sing. Or luckily for them I must say… :)

We meet a lot of happy children. One of them is Tania. Tania is 20 years old, living in Dhaka. Thanks to the SUF she has the possibility to go to school, find a decent job and earn her own money.

SUF Sewing class - by Saskia Rejhons

SUF Sewing class – by Saskia Rejhons

In kids club it’s party time and the kids are happy to ask us for the dance after they did their performance. It turns out we are all naturals and we get a big applause once we are done.. ;)

Performance in kids club - by Saskia Rejhons

Performance in kids club – by Saskia Rejhons

Seeing their smiles and the fun and happiness in their eyes makes you forget the terrible numbers that we heard during the meeting and seeing a board on the door above a class room with “supported by IKEA Foundation” makes me feel proud in a way. We make difference.

Supported by sign - by Saskia Rejhons

Supported by sign – by Saskia Rejhons

It get’s a little bit dark already and we are strolling through the tiny little streets of Dhaka. The experience is so different when you walk outside then when you’re sitting in a car which we did so far. It’s warm and the smell of scented come’s along. At the end of the street we arrive at two small houses made of wood and crimp. It’s not much but it’s their home and it feels like that when we enter the small door. We are meeting Iti (18) and Rikka (20) They both were educated at the SUF and thanks to that, Iti has a job as a seamstress now. Rikka is still in school and lives with her mom. I’m really touched by what these two young women are telling and especially how they tell it. With so much pride and so happy to have us in their homes.

A day full of wonderful experiences, emotions and mixed feelings.. The one hour drive over 1 kilometer, stuck in traffic doesn’t bother us.

Rikka and her mother at her home - by Sabina Vis

Rikka and her mother at her home – by Sabina Vis


We’re off to Bangladesh!

Tickets and visas are in, and I got my vaccinations and am halfway packed after I’ve blown a layer of dust off my backpack. Almost ready for takeoff! This Saturday we fly from Amsterdam to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Not for vacation but with a mission!

Bangladesh, the Country of Bengal. The country with a population density of almost 3,000 people per square mile. The country with 800 rivers. The country where Save the Children has achieved so many good things with help from the IKEA Foundation.

Next week I will get the chance to see it for myself. We will visit different projects related to protection, empowerment and education for out-of-school and disabled children. I feel grateful to contribute, and I’m looking forward to sharing my story and hopefully inspiring everybody back home.

Beer  Beer (2)

Join me on my trip to Bangladesh

I am a privileged girl. Who gets the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh for work, especially when there is not even an IKEA Store? I do. When I am writing this introduction blog, it is only four nights of sleep before I get on a plain to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

But first, let me introduce myself:
My name is Saskia, and I’m 39 years old, married to Eward and mother of a son, Gijs, and living in Delft, The Netherlands.

I have worked for Inter IKEA Systems BV / IKEA Delft Store for almost eight years now. I started as Human Resources Advisor and currently I am Operation Manager for the store.

And now I have this great opportunity.
Why did I apply? Because I have some love left. I love to see how life is in Bangladesh and how IKEA can make this life even better by supporting different projects. As far as I know now, we will visit different projects related to protection, empowerment and education for out-of-school children and disabled children.
Please read with me during our trip, so I can share my experiences with you.

Bidaya (see you soon),

How Save the Children is helping children with disabilities and indigenous children in Bangladesh

This week a group from IKEA Netherlands and IKEA France, is going on an IWitness trip to Bangladesh. Rakibul Hassan from Save the Children Bangladesh describes the current situation and explains about the programmes funded through the Soft Toys for Education campaign

Rakibul Hassan from Save the Children Bangladesh

Rakibul Hassan from Save the Children Bangladesh

There are 57 million children in Bangladesh, 7 million of whom have some form of disability. Only 20% of children with disabilities have access to education, and 50% become victims of sexual abuse and other forms of violence. Around 77% of families with a disabled child partially depend on the child’s income, although there are few opportunities for safe employment. The families employ them in tea stalls, road-side food shops or in small businesses where they have to do physical labour. Many families send these children out to beg.

Save the Children has been working to care for, protect and empower this extremely vulnerable group of children for decades now. Our Protection for Empowerment Project, with support from the IKEA Foundation, is helping 4,400 children with disabilities in three districts of Bangladesh get access to local services, care and protection, and inclusive education. The project is helping protect them from abuse, neglect, violence, and discrimination at home, at school, in the workplace and in the community.

Photo 1 Intro blog Bangla

There are also 2.5 million indigenous people belonging to ethnic tribes in Bangladesh. Many of them live in the country’s Chittagong Hill Tracts region. Disadvantaged ethnic children’s suffering is compounded by the fact that there is little scope of education in their mother tongues. Their teachers are also from the same tribes, but there didn’t used to be a government-set curriculum for ethnic children’s education. Most importantly, there were no textbooks available in their languages. All children used to get books in the Bengali language, which neither ethnic children not their teachers understood.

Since the IKEA Foundation started supporting Save the Children’s Multilingual Education project in 2008, Save the Children has established 160 preschools and 17 non-formal primary schools in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Save the Children has trained teachers, the curriculum has been developed and a wide range of learning materials has been made available in five ethnic languages. To date, 6,785 ethnic children have benefitted from these initiatives.

Photo 2 Intro blog Bangla

“I want to be a teacher when I grow up,” says Jesmin, an 8-year-old girl from the Chakma community in Khagrachari district.

“I love to study. I want to keep on studying,” declares 6-year-old Ahlu, who belongs to the Marma ethnic group.

Fifteen-year-old Payel, who has cerebral palsy that impairs her movement, maintains top grades in school and wants to be a minister or painter. Thanks to the IKEA Foundation’s support for Save the Children’s work in Bangladesh, these aspirations are closer to becoming reality.

Photo 3 Intro blog Bangla