Youth Volunteer, Monique Dam, reflects on her recent trip to Myanmar with World Vision Australia.
Monique Dam is one of four volunteer youth campaigners recently returned from Myanmar with World Vision to learn more about child protection issues. Whilst there she visited a centre to teach children vital life skills to protect them from exploitation.
A big highlight from my time in Myanmar was when I travelled to the rural community of Loikaw. It’s a town of about 300,000 people, but still quite isolated. Opportunities for young people there are limited.
Young people, just like me, are at great risk of trafficking and exploitation in Loikaw. This is largely because of limited access to education and other opportunities. It’s hard for families to earn a living, and even harder for young people to find their own way out of poverty. Enticing offers of jobs or new opportunities in big cities, can be seen as throwing a lifeline to the youth of Loikaw. It’s quite difficult to imagine what it must be like growing up in that situation, what the pressure must be like every day to earn enough money for your family.
I thought about all the information and guidance I had access to while growing up: from my family, my school, books, the internet. And all the opportunities I’ve had to work, learn and discover new things. If it wasn’t for lucky circumstance in growing up where I did, I too would be looking for better opportunities. It could very well have been me left vulnerable to exploitation from a false promise. Myanmar and the reality of life there had made me see, even more clearly than before, how genuinely lucky I am to have grown up without those pressures.
While my trip certainly opened my eyes, my time at the youth centre was a happy one. It is a safe space for kids to learn and play. After we sang and danced the Hokey Pokey together, with laughter and giggles all round, the children told me what they’d learned at the centre. Now they know the risks that can lead to people being trafficked – extreme poverty, lack of food and the inability to find a steady job. These situations can all lead people to leave home in search of a better livelihood.
I was pleased to hear the children want to share what they learn with their friends, and encourage them to join the centre’s programs. The children emphasised they know now not to trust strangers who offer job opportunities too good to be true.
The older youth undertake vocational training, health training and had a shared savings fund – so they can invest in opportunities to benefit them at different times. This is such a good idea – because it helps young people work together to support each other and provides opportunities that they wouldn’t have had before. A 15 year old girl told us: “before we had no dreams, but now we have hope for the future”.
The children eagerly shared their dreams for the future too, wishing to become: a singer, engineer, teacher, tour guide, doctor, footballer, lawyer, pilot, artist, teacher, engineer, scientist, president and even a World Vision staff member!
This is largely because World Vision is at work there, helping to improve conditions for children and their families and empower them to change their futures. Projects around Loikaw focus particularly on maternal and child health, education and disaster risk reduction.
For me, the work being done at the children’s centre was a powerful lesson in possibility, in the impact empowerment can have. Learning about the pressures the children of Myanmar face every day left me in fear of their futures. But I was so encouraged after visiting the centre. Staff there work really hard to give young people the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from harm and exploitation. The fact that the youth of Loikaw are learning, and then sharing knowledge among their peers, indicates how empowerment can be a powerful tool for change across generations.
Seeing their reality, makes me even more determined to do what I can to make their dreams come true!
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