In 2012 Brad Hazlett and I spent more than a week in Shan State visiting some areas that are hardly ever visited by westerners. At the end of one day we visited Nam Wan’s family. She is a beautiful 14-year-old girl. In a poor village, 10km from a major city, Nam Wan was dressed in a short black miniskirt and hot pink tights. At six pm, she was heading off to work. Her parents said that she was working in the rice fields. The reality was…. well, you can read between the lines.
This visit has to have been one of the most profoundly disturbing experiences of my life, and I know it was for Brad too. I watched the tears well up in his eyes as the realization of the truth hit us.
Due to ongoing conflict and oppression in Myanmar (Burma), Nam Wan is only one of thousands of children in similar situations in that area.
In 2010 Partners embarked on a journey to try to deal with this problem, right at its roots. The exploitation of the poor, and especially young women and girls, can be linked back to poverty and lack of education. In an informal survey of a troubled area in Shan State, local leaders reported to us that around 4% of children under 16 years of age were attending school. The rest were working in some capacity. Some were in the fields, some tending buffaloes; many were sent away to neighboring Thailand to “work”.
On further investigation we found that the core issue was funding: “We have no money to pay for teachers, or build classrooms, or pay for equipment”, communities repeatedly told us. As we surveyed further, we found that communities were more than willing to work to enable their kids to go to school, but usually there was no seed capital available. Working with various donors from UK, Canada, USA, NZ, Australia, and Norway, we raised “seed capital” for these communities.
We then talked with each of 16 communities and asked them what they thought were the best income generating projects for their group to run to support a school. Each chose differently according to their situation.
Pawmyar village was one of the places we started. Uncle Moong is one of the village leaders overseeing their income generation project. Using the seed money provided, the village implementation committee purchased five cows. The community was divided into five groups. Each group took responsibility for raising one cow. After the cattle are fully grown they will be sold for around 50% profit on investment. The money will be used to enable the more than 60 children in their village who are not attending school, to start to learn. The funds from this project will enable them to hire another teacher and to expand their ramshackle school building! Sometime during our visit, after they had purchased the cows, Uncle Moong stated, “Now I am over seventy years old. We have never had any development funds in this area.” Another village leader said, “This is the first time I have ever seen anybody give to help us, usually people only come to our village to take from us!”
“This is the first time I have ever seen anybody give to help us, usually people only come to our village to take from us!”
The profits from these income generation projects are used several ways.
Firstly, the capital is retained each year to run the project again. Some of the money is used for teacher salaries and school buildings. Some of the money is kept in a savings fund, and most communities plan on saving enough money to start a similar project in a neighboring community in a few years time.
For us here at Partners, this program brings exciting possibilities. Communities are empowered, and kids get to go to school. But perhaps the most exciting thing for me personally is the thought that this program will save a few Naw Wan’s from the terror of being trafficked. At its core, this community-empowering program is part of the much bigger picture that stops kids being cast into the brutal whirlwind of the flesh trade. Education is the fence at the top of the trafficking cliff and a powerful tool for bringing free, full lives to children affected by conflict and oppression.
Story: Stuart Corlett
For more information on sustainable business initiatives that allow children in areas affected by conflict and oppression to go to school, visit www.partnersworld.org.