According to the Thematic Report on Disability produced from Myanmar census data, 4.9% of young men and 5.5% of young women aged 15-19 are illiterate. Among young people of the same age with a disability, however, the figures are 35.5% and 33.8% respectively (Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, 2017: 56).
As noted in the report:
…education is an important factor for persons with disabilities to advance themselves, but is also instrumental for society in making full use of persons with disabilities to play an active role in the social and economic development of the country.
Lack of education translates into lack of participation in the world of work; again, as noted in the Thematic Report, ‘persons with a disability [in Myanmar] more frequently belong to the poorest group of society’ (Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, 2017: 80).
At national level, the Myanmar government is convinced of the need to promote rights for people with a disability; for example, a National Committee on Rights of Persons with Disabilities was formed by government order in 2017, national schools are being rehabilitated to make them accessible to children with disabilities, and a two-day workshop was held in Naypyitaw in April 2019 to draft a national strategy for people with disabilities.
For children with a disability, however, it is often parents and extended family that make decisions on whether or not they get any form of education. Staff and managers at Paung Ku partner Eden Centre for Disabled Children well know what children with a disability are capable of, if given the opportunity; they also know well that many families keep their disabled children at home because they feel that disability is something to be ashamed of.
The Centre, which as about 200 students enrolled each year and is based in an area of Yangon where many people are surviving on daily wages, offers a sliding scale of fees to encourage participation. Children from poorest families can attend free of charge, while others are asked to pay what they can afford. Yet still Centre staff and supporters know that there are many disabled children in the area who are kept at home.
Teachers from Eden Center are giving award to a child with disability in Advocacy Event for Mainstreaming Disability on 2030 Agenda /ECDC
When Eden Centre came to Paung Ku with several different proposals for funding, including one for funding to support a student certificate-giving ceremony at the Centre, a Program Officer sat down and asked Centre staff about their experiences and about their aims. She listened and asked questions and, together, they realised that the Centre’s pupils are the greatest possible advocates for other young people with disabilities. Eden Centre then developed a single funding application, asking for support to hold the certificate-giving ceremony in a public park in Yangon and using the event to demonstrate just what children with disabilities are capable of. Paung Ku provided a small grant, as well as helping the Centre to make contact with local MPs and representatives of the media.
The event, held on March 22, 2019, included a stage show where Centre pupils sang and danced. Pupils and parents were involved in all aspects of event planning, with support provided from Paung Ku. There were 452 (female: 305, male: 147) presence in the event while it is assumed that they would bring its key message to their colleagues and family members described as indirect beneficiary (female: 2000, male: 2000).
The story was picked up by Myanmar media, but the real success of the event became clear after the event, when registration for the next year opened. The number of children put forward for enrolment—none of whom had ever gone to school before—was higher than the school’s capacity. Parents had realised that their children could have a future.
Daw Tin Hnin Soe, the mother of Maung Min Khant, said, “I’m glad as well as my son because in the ceremony he was recognized with five awards and he performed with dance in the public.”
Daw Naw Khu Plah, a teacher from EDEN Centre, expressed, “We, teachers, are also happy to see when they are upbeat in their performance. We think that people are becoming aware of the children with disability, will identify hidden children and send them to school.”
In the shorter term, Eden Centre is working to find ways of supporting all those children who were brought forward. In the longer term, it is planning to expand.