The following is from “The Globe,” a magazine for children to learn about child rights issues around the world as a part of World’s Children’s Prize. Learn more about World’s Children’s Prize here and on their website.
Click the images to enlarge them and click again to zoom in, or scroll to the bottom of this post for a text version the article.
Angkana’s Secret Struggle
Angkana was eleven years old the first time she crossed the border from the dictatorship of Burma to attend Sompop’s school in Thailand. Now , twelve years later, she is following in Sompop’s footsteps and helping Burmese children get an education. But she has to work in secret, and does not want to show her face. Burma can still be a dangerous place to fight for the rights of the child.
“Sompop’s school was so different,” explains Angkana. “We were taught both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. And I learned how to think freely!”
The poor border areas of Burma are mostly populated by hill tribes. “We have the lowest level of education in the whole of Burma,” says Angkana. “There is no money, and there are far too few teachers.”
Girls making a difference
When Angkana was 15 she attended Sompop’s first ever leadership training course, with girls from all over the Mekong Region (Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos’. They called themselves the Mekong Youth Net.
“We learned about our countries and cultures, about how to interview children and how to set up an organization. We also studied human trafficking and the rights of the child.”
Many of Angkana’s friends of the same age had left Burma to work in Thailand. “When their parents went looking for them, they were gone without a trace. While studying on Sompop’s course, I suddenly realized that my friends had probably become victims of trafficking.”
Helping Burmese children
Today Angkana herself works in secret to defend children’s rights in Burma. “It can be difficult and dangerous to run an organization here, so we have to be extremely careful. I seek out the very poorest children who have a difficult home life. There is a high risk that they will be forced to stop school and start working. Some of their parents are sick or addicted to drugs. I give them money towards school fees and food, and take them to the doctor. I also tell the whole family about the dangers of sending children to work in Thailand.”
Angkana gathers information about how life is for children living in the border area, which she gives to Sompop and his organization, to help them plan their work better. I look up to Sompop and the others who were my teachers at his school.” says Angkana.
“I often have to take care of my younger brother and do the housework, because my mother has to work so much.”
Likes: Math and Burmese. It’s good to be able to count, for example when you go to the shop!”
Loves: Cycling. Especially cycling fast down steep hills.
Happy that: My father has been released from prison and lives with us again.
Wants to be: A singer.
Dream: To be able to go to university. I also want all the children in my village to be able to go to school.
“I love my parents, but they are old and sick so we are very poor.”
Likes: Studying Burmese, reading books and magazines, writing and playing ballgames!
Wants to be: A doctor. I have asthma and my doctor helped me feel better.
Angry because: So many children are not able to go to school. They have to take care of younger siblings or move away to work.
Happy when: My brother comes home so the whole family is together.
“I have six siblings and our dad has to work really hard for our sakes. My older siblings work too. I’m scared that soon I’ll have to stop school to work and take care of my younger siblings.”
Likes: Studying Burmese.
Wants to be: A teacher.
Likes: Being with my family and watching TV. One house in our village has a TV and the children usually gather there!
Dream: To travel and maybe move to Rangoon, the capital of Burma. And to build a playground in our village.
Hill tribes’ hard life in Burma
For a long time, Burma has been rules with an iron fist by a military regime from the largest people group in Burma, the Burmese. The regime has persecuted all those in the country who fight for democracy, as well as those who belong to different ethnic groups. The hill tribes, like the Akha and the Karen, have been treated particularly badly. Children’s schools have been shut down, villages have been burnt to the ground, food deliveries have been stopped and hill tribes have been exploited through forced labor. As a result, many of them have fled to Thailand. Now the situation in Burma has improved a little. Many political prisoners have been released, such as democracy champion and the World’s Children’s Prize patron, Aung San Suu Kyi. But the hill tribe peoples do not yet dare to believe that their lives could get better.