Wednesday, July 1, 2015

From Community Support Networks to National Social Welfare

By Virginia Henderson
©UNICEF Myanmar/2015/Virginia Henderson
Aung Than Myint, 13, in front of his family home in Shwe Taung Ward, Taunggyi, Southern Shan State
Taunggyi, Southern Shan State, June 2015:  In a tiny shack in Shwe Taung Ward, Taunggyi, Aung Than Myint, 13 years, lives with his mother Daw San San Myint, 41, her second husband and two of his four siblings; the other two live with their grandmother.
 “I used to go to play with my friends in the garbage dump. I like to play ‘follow’ and marbles and ‘bollo’ (football),” says Aung Than Myint from his home.
“Recently, someone told me that my son was playing around inhaling glue. I was really worried that he was doing bad things so I beat him with a broomstick,” says Aung Than Myint’s mother. “My main reason for beating him was so he would not become a bad boy, like many in this region. Children who do not get controlled by their parents become street children.  I reprimand my sons verbally but sometimes they don’t listen.”
After the beating, Aung Tan Myint ran away. “When mum hit me with the broomstick, I knew I was guilty so I fled. I went to the Naka Pwe Pagoda monastery nearby. I didn’t know anyone there but I knew it was a safe place,” confides the boy.
Volunteers from the community support network eventually found Aung Tan Myint and brought him home. They spoke with his mother, explaining that beating children has a profound negative affect on a child - lowering their self-esteem, confidence and ability to learn
Khaing Zar Lwin, has been a social worker with Phyo Kin Thar since the beginning of this volunteer community support group, supported by UNICEF, Myanmar Red Cross Society and Ratana Metta Organisation. 
“Our staff at Phyo Kin Thar has increased to 20 people, all volunteers have other jobs, such as drivers, clerks, lawyers,” explains the social worker.  “Our members do neighbourhood surveillance to prevent child abuse. Most of our work is helping to negotiate problems between children and their caregivers. When a child from a poor family needs medical support, for example, in the case of an accident, we can help to send to the child hospital and take care of the costs.”
©UNICEF Myanmar/2015/Virginia HendersonBrothers Nay Aung and Kyaw Moe Hlaing reunited with their aunt Daw Khin Nyo at home in Taunggyi, Southern Shan State
On a Thursday morning at a local monastery on a hill in Taunggyi, Khaing Zar Lwin led a friendly session on mentoring children, part of the Community Education Programme. During the well-attended gathering, the community support volunteer explained that Myanmar law forbids child abuse. She also encouraged children to comply with their mothers. At the end of the session, a twelve-year-old girl in the audience reflected, “I have just learned there are children’s support groups. I’m glad to know about this.”
Khin Myo Aye, Head of UNICEF Field Office in Taunggyi explains that, “to promote child protection, we work on a parallel two-pronged approach.  At community level it’s about awareness raising and at policy level we advocate for changes to the laws where they are needed. A dual approach is important; the work is complementary.”
U Tin Aung Yi, Deputy Director of the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) is nearing retirement after working on child protection issues for several years.
©UNICEF Myanmar/2015/Virginia Henderson
Aung Than Myint, 13 and his brother Aung Khaing Myat Zan, 8 near their home in Shwe Taung Ward, Taunggyi, Southern Shan State
“A key to the success of the newly invigorated social welfare programme is the links between the DSW, the international organizations, including UNICEF, and the local community support groups”, he explains.  “Lately I’ve seen an increase in collaboration and partnership between our department and INGOs. We have close relationships with some community support groups. One advantage of the local NGOs like Phyo Kin Thar is they know the people and families. They can go to the community and investigate cases. Together we collaborate and can support each other,” says the Deputy.

As a result of the partnership between UNICEF and the Government, the Department of Social Welfare is increasing its work on social protection, with the appointment of more community case managers. Taunggyi will appoint three more officers; two are already recruited and in training. At the community level, the Department of Social Welfare promotes standards and training for community volunteers who form groups to protect the elderly, women, children and disabled people.
The long-term goal is for 330 social welfare services to be opened at every township and to recruit and train 6000 social workers. UNICEF is supporting this social welfare programme to be piloted in a number of areas in Myanmar.
 “Now I no longer beat the boys and I don’t allow my husband to beat them either. We’ve all learned from this experience. My sons seem to listen to me now,” said the reformed mother. “Now I won’t run away,” says Aung Tan Myint. “Things are OK at home these days.”

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