Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Saved and brought back home by the community

By Virginia Henderson
©UNICEF Myanmar/2015/Virginia Henderson
Taunggyi, Southern Shan State, June 2015:  Nay Aung, 12, and his brother, Kyaw Moe Hlaing, 22, have always lived with their aunt Daw Khin Nyo, and their grandfather, in Taunggyi, Southern Shan State.
Very poor, shy and illiterate, the orphaned pair couldn’t attend school after kindergarten. They cannot write their own names but can recognise the word if someone else writes it. To earn money, the brothers do odd jobs, working errands at the teashop beside their home. At closing time, they move the furniture inside and clear up things. Nearby shops ask them to take their garbage to the dump so they get a little extra pocket money for that and at the same time can scavenge for useful sellable items.
“When our parents passed away four and six years ago, my brother and I realised we would have to survive by ourselves. We try to find ways to help our aunt and to support each other and the family,” says young Nay Aung. “My family is important to me.”
In March 2015, while at the city garbage dump, the two brothers were approached by a smartly dressed couple offering them jobs at a golf course with decent pay of USD10 a day.
They agreed to go with the couple. The man then called their aunt to inform he was taking them to a golf course nearby. Nay Aung recounts, “When we arrived at the bus station we got a bit worried and asked where we were going and the man told us the golf course was five hours away. We thought it was near Taunggyi so told him we wanted to go home. But the man said he had already bought the bus ticket and that we had to go.”
©UNICEF Myanmar/2015/Virginia Henderson
“We were taken to Ko Lam, a military base on the border of Eastern Shan State. The army bosses asked us if we wanted to join the army. We said no. They asked if we could cook. We said no. They cut our hair and sent us to do domestic chores, fetching water and watering the plants,” explains Kyaw Moe Hlaing, the older brother.
After no sign of the boys for three days, their family became very concerned. “I was really worried and wanted to know where they were. I regret allowing the children to go with someone I didn’t know,” says Daw Khin Nyo. Another younger aunt, Daw Moe Aye Nyo had recently attended child protection awareness training where she had written down the important phone numbers.
Remembering what to do and who to contact, she proceeded to call the police, the Department of Social Welfare and Karuna Myanmar Social Services (KMSS), a local NGO that partners with UNICEF and is currently mapping where services and assistance can be available. Though combined and extensive effort, the boys were eventually located and returned to their home eleven days after their disappearance.
Social workers in organisations like KMSS play a vital and valuable role in community mobilisation and support for child protection. The network of trained volunteers communicates and cooperates with families and community leaders to encourage grassroots-led awareness raising. They are often the trusted go-betweens who keep in touch with news of vulnerable situations and collaborate with local authorities. The child protection awareness trainings held in accessible locations in the community are friendly and inviting, sharing useful information about support services.
 “At the army barracks, we were bored, unhappy and paid nothing for our work,” laments Nay Aung. “All the time I wanted to come home.”
The boys and their aunts are grateful to the organisations involved in getting them back and for providing hope for the future. Nay Aung is now attending a non-formal education course. KMSS arranged for Kyaw Moe Hlaing to attend vocational training in mechanics at the YMCA but the young man found it too confusing and has returned to working at the teashop and doing market errands.
“I’m much happier being with my family and hope I can learn some new skills for my life. For sure I will be more careful in the future and am sharing my story with others,” declares a relieved Nay Aung.

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