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Happy children laughing in Myanmar

Championing the child in Myanmar


They say it takes a village to raise a child. But Catherine Middleton has discovered that when it comes to children’s rights, sometimes just one person is enough to get the ball rolling.

After years of civil war, children in northern Myanmar face poverty, poor access to education, and malnutrition. The very idea of child rights can be, literally, a foreign concept. And children are often on the receiving end of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

 

ACU graduate Catherine Middleton works with International Needs Australia (INA), a non-government organisation that engages with local groups such as the Karen Women’s Empowerment Group to educate villagers in Myanmar’s remote north on the importance of children’s rights.

 

“The work focuses on developing community-based ways to prevent, identify, address and refer cases of child rights violations,” said Catherine. “The aim is better health, wellbeing and educational outcomes for the country’s youngest and most vulnerable.”

 

Children enjoying a child club meeting, Myanmar.

The difference one person can make

One of the project activities is to train local adults to become Child Champions. Child Champions are educated in child rights, protection and Myanmar law to have a better understanding of their responsibilities as parents and community members.


They take a lead role in teaching others in their village these same responsibilities. Champions organise activities such as supervising safe spaces where children can go to play games and sports or read together. They also educate children about their rights, as well as teach them positive morals and values.

 

Both men and women are encouraged to become Champions. The project has a near 50/50 split of genders, something Catherine says is critical for its success.

 

“In communities all over the world, it is usually left to women to look after children and stand up for their rights. But with the way systems are set up, men generally have more power than women.


"With this imbalance, nothing changes. The men need to hear these messages and take equal responsibility for the rights of children in their community,” she said.

 

Another important responsibility of the Champions is to provide a safe referral point for locals if there are any abuses of child rights.

 

Child champions meeting in northern Myanmar

Child champions

In one case, a thirteen-year-old girl was taken out of school to work as a housemaid and pay off her mother’s debt,”  Her grandmother contacted her local Champion who was able to intervene. They explained to all the parties involved the importance of keeping the girl in school. She is now living with her grandmother and has returned to school,” Catherine said.

The power of a village

While Catherine has seen the impact a single Champion can make to the life of a child, she’s also seen the power of a village working towards a common goal – improving children’s lives.

 

“One of the villages we were working in didn’t have its own primary school. The children were sent away to other villages, living with family and friends to get an education. The locals, out of their own funding pool, decided to set up a school in their village.

 

“One community member donated land, others put in to purchase building materials, and they all worked together to provide free labour to build the school. With the support of our project funding, they also provided the initial salary for a teacher. The school is now registered, is receiving government funding and hopes to get a second teacher soon.”

Myanmar school children meeting

Child club meeting


For Catherine, it’s stories like these that let her know she’s having an impact.

 

“The most satisfying part of my job is when I get to meet the community members and hear how they’ve been able to change their communities through the work we’re doing.”

 

Catherine Middleton has a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Global Studies from ACU. She has volunteered at Campaign for Australian Aid, Hogar de Christo, and currently works with International Needs Australia.

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Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright@ Australian Catholic University 1998-2019 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G