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Myanmar: I help someone every day, and I am proud of that

Source: Plan
Country: Mali, Myanmar

Posted by Jimmy Tuhaise, Plan Emergency Response Manager

Jimmy Tuhaise Ahead of World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, Emergency Response Manager Jimmy Tuhaise blogs about the impact of Plan’s work with children in conflict-hit Myanmar and Mali.

I’ve been doing this job for over 10 years. I like humanitarian work because it saves lives. What you do for a child within the first few weeks of an emergency or disaster makes a difference to the rest of their life.

For example, if Plan moves in quickly and sets up a school for a child to continue his or her education instead of waiting for the long term government project to come in, that child will catch up with other students and there will be less impact on his or her education in the long run.

For children who have witnessed dead bodies and shootings, or have seen their mothers raped during the conflicts, the trauma stays with them psychologically; they can grow up thinking that killing is normal and that seeing people dying is normal. Our psycho-social work is so important to help children grow up naturally as children.

Reaching children in Myanmar

I’ve just been deployed for 3 months to Myanmar. Plan has opened a new office here; I am deployed wherever the emergency team needs capacity to design programmes in countries that are struggling.

We have no sponsorship at all as yet in Myanmar, and there’s been war and conflict here for so many years - so you have community conflict as well as political unrest. We’re looking at about 140,000 people in the refugee camps in Rakhine State and because of the conflict, you have about another 100,000 internally displaced people – among them about 50,000 children.

These children can’t go to school because they don’t have access to quality education. Then you have land mines; lack of access to quality health services and people living between government-controlled areas and rebel-controlled areas where they can’t cross over. It’s a desperate situation.

I do believe Plan International can really make an impact on children’s lives here with our work.

Mali conflict response

Earlier this year I was deployed to Mali for 5 months. Again, the country was struggling to respond to the political emergency and I had to scale up Plan’s programmes to support around 40,000 distressed children.

The problem was that almost the whole region of Timbuktu was occupied by Islamist insurgents. During the period of Sharia law that was imposed, girls were not allowed to go to school; they were forced into marriage and there were many cases of rape and premature pregnancy.

The whole system collapsed because the region was occupied by rebels, nobody could go to school for a year, there were no health services, no food support, almost 3 quarters of the population were displaced.

Plan, again, went in as one of the first agencies at that time with a programme based around child protection, education and water, sanitation and hygiene in schools.

Smiling again

We constructed temporary schools, distributed school kits and teaching materials, and trained teachers. We also promoted hygiene, providing drinking water for children and running child-friendly spaces.

When you move to an area where children are really traumatised, they have nothing to do; no playing materials and nowhere to go. If you set up a child-friendly space, somewhere for them to play, it makes a difference in their lives psychologically. Those children who have dropped out of school have a smile on their faces when they start school again. You can see the impact on the children’s lives straight away, it doesn’t take years.

Some children attempt to go to school without any school supplies; no pencils, no copy books, no bags. So Plan comes in and distributes supplies to school kids - say, a bag, books, a pencil and a pen - and they can go to school again and be happy.

I guess the most important thing about this type of humanitarian work is that you do your job, and you make a difference to somebody’s life. I help someone every day, and I am proud of that.

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