Ten-year-old Sanda Aung fled her home in Myanmar and now lives in small bamboo house in Umpiem refugee camp in Thailand. Her parents are too poor to send her to school and the only time she ever gets to be a child is when she attends play activities organized by HI.
“In Myanmar, we used to have a good life,” Sanda Aung explains. “We had a nice house, we had cattle and both of my parents were well educated. Everything changed the day our village was attacked.”
Today, Sanda Aung lives with her parents and her nine brothers and sisters in a small bamboo house in Umpiem Camp in Thailand, along the border with Myanmar. The isolated and hilly camp gives shelter to 10,000 people who fled Myanmar; most of them are Karen, an ethnic minority.
When the family fled, her father, San Aung was severely wounded. Today, he’s blind in one eye, which makes it very hard to work and to take care of Sanda Aung and her siblings. The children’s parents can’t send the children to school; they can’t afford the books or school fees. Instead, her mother uses old magazines to teach her children how to read and write.
The whole family sleeps in one tiny room. The inner walls are made of cardboard, and the only thing that lighten up the rooms are the colorful masks and toys the children made during one of the activities organized by HI. “I absolutely adore the activities,” says Sanda Aung. “It makes me forget about our sorrows. And it’s an excellent opportunity to be with other children, because I miss school so much.”
Sanda Aung is a beneficiary of our Growing Together project, funded by IKEA Foundation. The project gives vulnerable refugee children the opportunity to play and develop, a vital part of a child’s life, especially children with disabilities. “We have a large number of children who are not attending school due to various reasons, including financial constraints,” says Jodie Nguy, HI’s inclusion and accessibility program officer for the Growing Together project in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Thailand.
“Families are focused on meeting what they consider as basic needs–food and shelter–whereas play is often dismissed as not important,” Jodie continues. “We work with parents to show them that play is critical for children. Play supports brain and neurological development and the development of essential life skills. Children who are deprived of play in displacement settings will be less likely to achieve their full potential.”
Sanda Aung prefers the drawing activities. It gives her the opportunity to settle down in a cocoon and dream away.“The drawing activities are an important part of the project,” Jodie adds. “Drawing is essential for all areas of development and an important way for children to relax and just have fun in an environment where much of what they live day to day is unsafe. It gives children the chance to express themselves creatively where words are not available.”
Sanda likes to draw beautiful houses that are in big contrast with the house she currently lives in. Everything about her dream house is beautiful and colorful. It has a swing and a rose garden. And moreover: it is big. “When I grow up, I want to be a teacher,” Sanda says. “My house can be used as a school building and all children would be welcome. Refugees or not.”
GROWING TOGETHER PROJECT
Growing Together is a four-year project in Thailand, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and is funded by the IKEA Foundation. Handicap International is creating inclusive spaces where children can come together–through play–to work through some of the challenges they face, especially serving children with disabilities. In addition to inclusive playgrounds, Growing Together will target the youngest children who are at risk of developmental problems. Simultaneously, the program will engage local child development service providers and help them become more responsive to the needs of boys and girls with disabilities and other vulnerable children. Learn more about the partnership.