Thursday, April 7, 2016

Life skills training at Youth Centres in Rakhine: “I feel happiness, I close my eyes and I start dreaming”

By Mariana Palavra
Pauktaw, Rakhine State, March 2016- She has the name of a flower and carries a permanent smile. Thazin (literally, “royal orchid”) lives in Kyauk Pyin Seik, a village in Pauktaw Township, Rakhine, with less than 800 habitants.
Thazin spends hours in one of her favourite places – the village Youth Centre.
Life skills trainings are being implemented in all eight youth centres run by DRC and supported by UNICEF in Rakhine, benefitting around  470 adolescents
©UNICEF Myanmar/2016/Mariana Palavra

During the summer break, the thirteen year-old, who has just finished grade four, helps her mother with cooking, fetching water, washing clothes and taking care of her 5 year-old brother.  But they are not the only ones who receive Thazin’s care and attention. “I like to help good people, especially elder villagers. I wash their hair, help with their clothes and keep them company if they are alone”. 

When she is not helping others, she spends hours in one of her favourite places – the Youth Centre. “I like it very much. It’s a place where you can not only play, but also learn and gain knowledge and experience”, Thazin says.
Most of the children of the village share this enthusiasm about the Youth Centre, implemented by Danish Refugee Council (DRC) with UNICEF support. “The Youth Centres provide a safe space for children and adolescents to play and learn, and give them an opportunity to participate in structured and supervised activities in their free time”, explains 
Marianna Narhi, Rakhine Child Protection Coordinator at Danish Refugee Council. “Through their activities, the Youth Centres aim to reduce protection risks for children and adolescents.”
One of those activities is life skills training, which takes place twice a week at Kyauk Pyin Seik Youth Centre. Thazin and 123 other children rarely miss a class. The training covers a variety of topics, from communication and teamwork to hygiene and health, providing adolescents with the tools they need to become active members of their communities.
“I have learnt so many things: how to communicate and be nice and polite to others, how to behave responsibly, and how to deal with health issues like HIV/AIDS and drug abuse”, Thazin explains. “And then I talk about these things when I am outside the centre. I share them with my parents and my little brother”.
Life skills trainings are being implemented in all eight youth centres run by DRC and supported by UNICEF in Rakhine, benefitting around 470 adolescents. UNICEF also supports other partners in the State, reaching a total of 1792 youth.  In all of these communities, there are limited educational and recreational opportunities for children and adolescents.
“In Kyauk Pyin Seik village for example, there is a primary school, but older children have to travel to a different village for secondary school. The distance and lack of affordable transport options can become prohibitive”, affirms Marianna Narhi. “Formal schooling can also be time consuming in communities where families depend on older children to start contributing to the household income.”
For these reasons, the centres are open daily and have various scheduled activities to give children and youth recreational and educational opportunities and prevent them from getting involved in risky behaviour.
“Adolescents needs are too often overlooked while they are also often the most exposed to risky behaviour and negative coping mechanisms. The youth clubs contribute to creating a better protective environment for them in under-privileged communities, camps and conflict-affected areas in Rakhine State”, explains Emmanuelle Compingt, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist. “ “We decided to invest in the life skills initiative as a core prevention strategy, so adolescents can speak up, develop critical thinking and become actors in their community. It also aims to change how the community perceives children and adolescents so that they value them as a resource.”
The facilitators at the Youth Centres are well aware of the community’s reality, therefore, they try to adapt the life skills training to these children’s lives. “It is a very good programme but also difficult to deliver since some of these children don’t have a high level of education”, explains Thein Saw Mg, a facilitator at Kyauk Pyin Seik Youth Centre. “First, we try to make children happy and comfortable. Then we contextualise the topics in the manual using local examples, and simple stories from daily life.”
Six months after the beginning of the training, those examples are already being applied to real life. “Most children participate actively in the sessions and as a result of the life-skills trainings, they have built up positive relationships with the facilitators, are better able to follow instructions, are more polite, help their parents and others around them, and seem happier”, concludes Thein Saw Mg. 
Smiling Thazin is the image of that happiness: “Sometimes facilitators and children read poems at the life skills trainings - that is my favourite moment”, she says. “When I hear those poems, I feel a happiness, I close my eyes and I start dreaming”.
One of her dreams is to continue studying, get into university and become a doctor. “I want to help sick people, especially elders. Plus, it will mean having a better life and gaining respect.”

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