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Himalayan Cataract ProjectIn 1995, Dr. Geoff Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit launched the Himalayan Cataract Project to eliminate curable and preventable blindness in under-resourced Himalayan communities. The two founded their innovative campaign after recognizing that cataracts account for 70% of unnecessary blindness in Nepal. Cataracts, or cloudy, opaque areas in the eye that block light entry, occur naturally with age. Poor water quality, malnutrition and disease tend to exacerbate the issue in developing countries.

For years, Dr. Tabin and Dr. Ruit had seen Nepalese villagers take blindness as a death sentence. “It was just accepted that you get old, your hair turns white, your eyes turn white, you go blind and you die,” Dr. Tabin told the Stanford Medicine magazine. But after Dutch teams arrived in Nepal to perform cataract surgery, he explained, “People came back to life. It was amazing.”

The Strategy

The Himalayan Cataract Project delivers sight-restoring cataract surgery at a low cost. Dr. Ruit’s groundbreaking procedure lasts 10 minutes and costs just $25. Today the organization has succeeded in providing permanent refractive correction for well over 500,000 people.

In an effort to leave a more sustainable impact, the project works from a “train the trainer” model that empowers community health providers and enhances local eye care centers. Rather than simply treating patients in need, specialists introduce new methods and technology to strengthen the practices of existing clinics.

As a result of these and other advances, the blindness rate in Nepal has plummeted to 0.24%, similar to that of Western countries. The Himalayan Cataract Project now operates in India, Tibet and Myanmar. Dr. Tabin has also initiated training programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Ghana and Ethiopia. He hopes to see the same successes here as achieved in Asia.

The Link Between Blindness and Poverty

Addressing blindness is a critical step in the fight against poverty. Blindness prevents able-bodied workers from supporting themselves, shortens lives and reduces the workforce. Children of blind parents often stay home from school as they scramble to fulfill the duties of household caregivers and providers. In short, blindness worsens poverty, while poverty magnifies the risk of blindness.

The Himalayan Cataract Project aims to break the cycle of blindness and poverty. Studies have shown a 400% return on every dollar that the organization invests in eradicating curable and preventable blindness. Their procedures stimulate the economy by helping patients get back to work.

Individual success stories continue to power the organization. Adjoe, a 40-year-old mother from Togo, traveled to Ghana for surgery when she determined that her blind eye was hurting business. As a street vendor selling beans, she saw customers avoid her stand for fear of contagion. She consulted Dr. Boteng Wiafe, a partner of the Himalayan Cataract Project, who performed oculoplastic surgery and gave her a prosthetic eye. Carefully matching the prosthetic to the size, color and shape of her good eye, Dr. Wiafe ensured that Adjoe could return home to provide for her family once again.

Response to COVID-19

In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a halt to live clinical training and elective surgeries, but the backlog of blindness continues to grow worldwide. Meanwhile, concerns about the virus may dissuade blind patients from seeking treatment for the next several years.

While eye care has been suspended, the Himalayan Cataract Project is using this time to redesign and restructure their programs so as to emerge even stronger than before. The organization is also working to equip partner clinics with information and resources to keep their patients safe. Some communities have even taken part in the shift to remote education and implemented a virtual training system.

Despite the uncertainty of the months ahead, the Himalayan Cataract Project remains firm in its commitment to fighting blindness and poverty. Its partner clinics around the globe have been tireless in their efforts to affirm that the poor and vulnerable will receive the eye care they need once patients can receive in-person treatment again.

Katie Painter
Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Myanmar
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a nation with 32.1 percent of the population living below the poverty line, according to 2015 data.

Accessing water in Myanmar has always been difficult, despite the country’s natural resources. It once was recognized to have the fourth-richest supply of groundwater in the world, holding more than 19,000 square meters per capita. This is 16 times the available levels of Myanmar’s neighboring country, Bangladesh.

A typical summer season in the last few years would introduce water shortages in only central Myanmar, but now, deforestation – as a result of urbanization – and hot temperatures contribute to water shortages in other additional areas of the country, leaving hundreds of thousands in danger.

However, recent changes to the water system have significantly improved water quality in Myanmar:

Fixing the Irrigation Systems

Myanmar’s agriculture industry provides jobs for 60 percent of workers, so it is crucial that irrigation systems are functional. In the past, Myanmar struggled with irrigation upkeep and water distribution, so The Pyawt Ywar Pump Irrigation Project stepped in to improve irrigation infrastructure, reform water management and provide education to farmers. Since its implementation, farmers and the government have worked together to make sure water distribution is fair and regulated, and farmers have learned how to use land efficiently to increase crop growth. The agriculture industry has improved as a result: the gross domestic product for agriculture increased from 12,316,081.8 MMK mn to 13,964,771.2 MMK mn in just five years.

Purifying Wastewater has Increased Access to Water

Proctor & Gamble’s Children Safe Drinking Water program and World Vision teamed up to give Myanmar residents a tool to clean non-potable water: a powder mixture invented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The powder transforms 10 liters of contaminated water into clean, drinkable water in just half an hour, providing a day’s worth of resources for a five-member family. This means that poor families living in Myanmar can purify water from rivers and streams instead of spending a lot of money on bottled water. P&G has helped with improving Myanmar’s water since 2008, and the water purification tool has helped 200,000 people gain access to safer water.

Decreasing Illness

Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, is a common occurrence in Myanmar because of people’s tendency to collect water in their homes. Stored water attracts mosquitoes and creates a large breeding ground for the disease. Myanmar is labeled as a high burden dengue country, and citizens take preventative measures by learning how to protect their water against mosquitoes and to keep their spaces dry and clean. In 2015, there were 42,913 cases of dengue, but after a year of water education and awareness, the number dropped to 10,770.

Looking Ahead

Access to clean water has increased in the last 15 years, but there is still more to be done. In 2000, 47.31 percent of citizens in rural areas had access to potable water, and that number has increased to 59.85 percent as of 2015, but it is still low. The Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene plans for universal access to water by 2030, and improving water quality in Myanmar may be achieved with increased awareness and action.

Katherine Desrosiers
Photo: Flickr

 

Rice Self-Sufficiency

Côte d’Ivoire is a West African nation of 23.7 million people. It is the largest producer of cocoa in the world and has a significant agriculture industry. However, Côte d’Ivoire has struggled to achieve self-sufficiency in the production of rice, a staple crop for many Ivorian people. Côte d’Ivoire imports about half of its rice supply from other nations. This can lead to positive trade relationships, but relying on imports for staple crops can also create problems, as the government discovered in April 2019.

The Côte d’Ivoire Rice Ban

In April 2019, the government of Côte d’Ivoire banned rice imports from the Singapore-based company, Olam International, for a year after it found that an 18,000-tonne rice shipment from Myanmar was inedible. “The unique circumstances relating to the recent rejection of cargo rice were unfortunate and not representative of the shipments of rice,” a company spokesperson told Bloomberg.

“[W]e should exploit our natural potential,” said Agriculture Minister Mamadou Coulibaly, citing Côte d’Ivoire’s substantial agricultural resources and the fact that Ivorians consume an average of 63 kilograms (about 139 pounds) of rice per person per year. By comparison, Americans consume an average of 197 pounds of grains per person per year.

Côte d’Ivoire’s Economy and the CFA Franc

Côte d’Ivoire won its independence from French colonial rule in 1960. It has since become Africa’s fastest-growing economy, but times of prosperity and growth have been punctuated by authoritarianism and political violence.

Like many nations emerging from colonial rule, Côte d’Ivoire has also struggled with the legacy of colonialism, of which difficulties with rice self-sufficiency are one aspect. A 2017 report from an international coalition of NGOs found that business profits, debt payments and other financial flows to the rest of the world still outweigh the investment in and aid to African nations to the tune of $41 billion per year.

One difficulty that Côte d’Ivoire faces in achieving economic independence is the CFA franc. The CFA franc is an outgrowth of French colonial rule in Côte d’Ivoire and other African nations and is a common currency that 14 African nations use. Technically, the CFA franc refers to both the West African and Central African CFA franc, but these two currencies are, in practice, interchangeable. The system requires that member countries hold 50 percent of their foreign exchange reserves in the French treasury. People have long criticized this as a threat to member nations’ sovereignty, impeding development. “[F]or those hoping to export competitive products, obtain affordable credit, find work, work for the integration of continental trade, or fight for an Africa free from colonial relics,” writes development economist and former technical advisor to the President of Senegal Ndongo Samba Sylla, “the CFA franc is an anachronism demanding orderly and methodical elimination.”

One consequence of this system is that the French government can choose to devalue the currency without the consent of member nations, as it did in 1994. This led to widespread discontent, as it increased prices for many everyday goods. A 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that devaluation “did not stimulate local production, or decrease rice imports.” Indeed, concurrent policies required by the World Bank actively “recommended abandoning the goal of self-sufficiency.”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) plans to replace the CFA franc with new shared currency next year. Demba Moussa Dembele, an economist, and president of the African Forum for Alternatives writes that, in order for the new currency to be successful, “[t]he consumption habits of citizens and states should focus on…goods and services produced locally. This is especially important for agricultural products in order to develop agriculture that can be both a great source of employment and increase demand for the industrial and service sectors.”

Other Initiatives to Increase Rice Self-Sufficiency

In addition to ECOWAS adopting a sovereign currency, there are many initiatives working to increase rice self-sufficiency for many African nations, including Côte d’Ivoire. For example, Mali, which borders Côte d’Ivoire, has seen great success from a subsidy program it adopted after the 2008 financial crisis increased the price of rice. This program subsidized both the purchase of fertilizer by rice farmers and the purchase of rice products by consumers. Today, Mali has not only achieved rice self-sufficiency but is actually a net exporter of rice, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The System for Rice Intensification is a method for increasing the amount of rice that farmers can grow in the same amount of space while maintaining eco-friendliness. A 2018 study of the method by the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development found that the method increased rice yields by 56 percent for irrigated rice and 86 percent for rain-fed rice. The researchers studied rice yields from more than 50,000 farmers in 13 different countries, including Côte d’Ivoire. ECOWAS has adopted a goal of achieving rice self-sufficiency by 2025, and the study projects that if all rice farmers in ECOWAS member countries adopted the method, not only could they achieve rice self-sufficiency, but there would be a five percent surplus in the rice supply.

So, while achieving rice self-sufficiency remains a formidable challenge for the people of Côte d’Ivoire, there are many reasons to be optimistic, including a new currency, the example of a neighboring nation’s stimulus programs and more efficient farming techniques.

– Sean Ericson
Photo: Flickr

Radio Naf
At the start of 2017, the refugees of Rohingya fled in the thousands from Myanmar. Today, many of their lives are still in disarray as they search for family, look for new homes and deal with the trauma from the violence that drove them out of their country.

Rohingya refugees often lack the information to take the next steps towards these goals. The use of media within camps has been vital to dealing with the emergency and keeping refugees connected with each other and the outside world, so Rohingya refugee media has been given a new voice: Radio NAF.

Radio NAF: A Voice for the Voiceless

In times of crisis like this one, access to information is almost as vital as food, shelter, and water. Local media can and has been used as a platform to update refugees on the status of their hometowns, educate them on sanitary practices and guide them toward necessary resources. Moreover, media has been used as a platform for refugees to voice their experiences and call the rest of the world to action.

Radio NAF is a community-based radio station in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. The station serves the rural and underserved communities in the region, which also happens to be home to the largest Rohingya refugee settlement, Kutupalong. The station interviews refugees and discusses the issues that affect them.

Due to the poor radio reception in these areas, all of the shows are prerecorded and brought to the communities through seven “listener clubs.” While the population in the settlement has declined slightly, listenership and attendance have risen, indicating that this is an invaluable source of information for those that come to and remain at the settlement.

But, another reason for the influx in attendance could also be the station’s ability to provide a voice to the voiceless. The station’s interviews allow individuals and groups in the settlements to make statements and send messages that reach far beyond the Rohingya refugee community. Its programs also tackle important issues like violence against women, and it also provides entertainment of the children in among the refugee, who comprise more than half of the population.

British Broadcast Corporation Media Action

Radio Naf is backed by the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC). BBC’s international development charity, BBC Media Action, has worked in conjunction with local Radio Naf employees—some of whom are refugees themselves—to analyze the issues and needs of the Rohingya refugees as told by the Rohingya refugees themselves.

The charity focuses its efforts on alleviating these specific problems, but it also shares all of its information with the United Nations, NGOs and governments working to mitigate the crisis. Through Rohingya refugee media, the people have the ability to make their voices thoroughly heard and get the message out to these organizations for swift and proper actions.

BBC backed Radio Naf has uncovered sanitary, financial, linguistic and logistic issues that continue to persist in the Rohingya refugee camps while sharing crucial necessities and calls to action to key players in the relief, which has been the focus of Radio Naf and its interviews. But, in order to bring about progress, this hope must be met with an eagerness to hear their voices and act on those issues.

Rohingya refugee media is an essential component to connecting refugees and working to alleviate some of the pain and misfortune that they have lived through. It has developed a platform for the spread of hope. This hope, after even a year into the crisis, echoes from community to community, from settlement to settlement.

– Julius Long
Photo: Flickr

Girls Finishing Primary School
The importance of education in lifting a country out of extreme poverty has been well established. Specifically, girls’ education promotes gender equality, raises wages and results in smaller, healthier families. There is an unprecedented increase in girls finishing primary school, allowing them to get educated alongside their male peers.

Income Levels and How they Affect Girls Finishing Primary School

The percentage of girls who can afford to attend (and finish) primary school is directly tied to their country’s income level. Level 1 is extreme poverty; the family can barely afford to eat and must get water from wells. Level 2 is lower-middle income; the family can afford decent food and shoes. Level 3 is upper-middle income; the family can afford running water and basic appliances. Level 4 is high income; the family can afford a nice house and cars.

Level 4: Oman

One hundred percent of girls in Oman finish primary school. Primary school starts at age 6 and continues until age 18, and girls can go to one of 1,045 schools as of 2011. However, back in 1973, when Oman was a Level 1 country, there were only three primary schools with no girls attending them at all. Oman has experienced phenomenal advances in both poverty reduction and girls’ education.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said ascended the throne in 1970 and did not like what he saw. He vowed to improve life for the Omani people. This included, among many other things, opening more schools and allowing girls to attend them. Additionally, he made public school free, allowed private schools to exist and created a comprehensive kindergarten curriculum. With the availability of free education for girls, 100 percent of girls attend and complete primary school.

Level 3: Iraq

In Iraq, 58.8 percent of the nation’s girls finish primary school. This is down from 68 percent in 2004, but it is higher than the 0.722 percent that it was in 1974. At present, girls make up 44.8 percent of students in primary schools.

The Iraqi school system is far from ideal. Uneducated girls, when asked why they do not attend school, cite abusive teachers, poverty, the presence of boys and concerns about domestic and national safety. Those who do go to school endure dirty bathrooms, a lack of clean drinking water and the aforementioned abusive teachers. Despite this, there are enough girls finishing primary school in Iraq to keep the country out of extreme poverty in the next generation.

Level 2: Morocco

In Morocco, 94.7 percent of girls finish primary school. This is a stark increase from 22.9 percent in 1972. After King Mohammed the Sixth ascended the throne on July 30, 1999, he began placing more focus on the education of his people. His efforts have impacted girls more than boys, as shown by the fact that only 9 percent of girls have to repeat any grades in primary school, which is less than the 13 percent of boys who have to do so. Although this has done little to improve women’s reputations as workers thus far, it is still a victory for the country.

Level 1: Myanmar

In Myanmar, 89.3 percent of girls finish primary school. This number was only 30.8 percent in 1971 for a simple reason: extreme poverty. While schooling itself is technically free, parents still need to pay for uniforms and supplies, and boys are favored over girls in terms of whom parents will spend money on. Sometimes, girls as young as 4 years old are sent to schools in Buddhist monasteries, which means being separated from their families.

However, help is being provided by the international community. Educational Empowerment is an American organization dedicated to promoting educational equality in Southeast Asia. It develops and supports schools in Myanmar, publishes books, and gives microloans to mothers to help get their daughters into school. This has helped girls catch up to their male peers and finish primary school.

For girls, getting an education has historically not been an easy task. Between the cost of school attendance, the existence of extreme poverty and general gender inequality, girls often fall behind their male peers when it comes to receiving an education. However, thanks to new government rulings and help from nonprofit organizations, there are now more girls finishing primary school than ever before, and the number is set to rise even higher. In the near future, girls’ education will be on par with that of their male counterparts. This is important because educating girls leads to educated women, and educated women can help lift a country out of extreme poverty.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr

7 Facts about the Rohingya GenocideThe Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is not just persecution, but a genocide. According to an April 2018 Al Jazeera feature article, Myanmar has taken part in “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya people by not recognizing the group as people and stripping away basic human rights such as food, shelter and clothing. There is also extreme military violence to eradicate the Rohingya, which has led to seeking refuge in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.

7 Facts About the Rohingya Genocide

  1. The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for centuries. They speak Ruaingga, which is distinct to other Myanmar languages, and they are primarily Muslims. According to Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, evidence of a 1799 document shows that the Rohingya have resided in Myanmar since the 18th century and possibly earlier, considering the earliest records of Muslims in Myanmar are from the 12th century. Today, there are 1.1 million Rohingya living in Buddhist Myanmar.
  2. The Rohingya have had no state identity since 1982. The British rule (1824-1948) considered Myanmar as a province of India, and there was a high volume of Indian and Bangladeshi migration of laborers to Myanmar, which was considered an internal migration. After independence from the British, the Myanmar government recognized the migration as illegal. According to a 2015 report from the International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, The Union Citizenship Act was passed in 1948 following independence, and the Rohingya were not included. A 1962 military coup required citizens to obtain national registration cards, and the Rohingya were only given foreign identity cards, which limited jobs and educational opportunities. In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed, which did not recognize the Rohingya as one of Myanmar’s 135 ethnic groups.
  3. Religious violence plays a large role in the tension between the Rohingya and the Myanmar government. Since 1982, the Rohingya have been persecuted and victims of violence. The Rohingya make up 2 percent of Buddhist Myanmar’s population but represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar. Often overlooked, religious violence has been key in the tension between the Rohingya and the military. In 2012, Muslim men had allegedly raped a Buddhist woman, which created massive religious violence against the Rohingya, forcing about 140,000 into camps for internally displaced people. According to CNN, from August to September 2017 alone, 6,700 Rohingya were killed by the Myanmar government while 2,700 died from disease and malnutrition.
  4. The majority of the Rohingya live in the Rakhine state, one of the poorest states in Myanmar, and it is illegal for the Rohingya to leave. In addition, 362 villages have been destroyed by the military. Rakhine is filled with “ghetto-like camps” and lacks access to education, healthcare, services, homes, water, etc., stripping the people of basic human needs.
  5. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace laureate and Burmese leader, has kept quiet on the genocide. Aung San Suu Kyi has neither criticized nor praised the Myanmar government for the genocide and does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group. The Myanmar military claims it “maintains peace and stability,” although the U.N. states that the Myanmar military has committed crimes against humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi and her government, in fact, recognize the Rohingya as terrorists, in particular to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
  6. The U.N. states that the Rohingya genocide is the “world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.” UNICEF estimates 687,000 have sought refuge dangerously by boat, primarily in neighboring Bangladesh, and over half of them are child refugees. However, Bangladesh has presented resistance to the refugees, because a poor, densely populated country such as Bangladesh will be unable to sustain them. In August 2017, the U.N estimated that there are at least 420,000 Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia. Additionally, there are around 120,000 internally displaced Rohingya. An estimated half a million Rohingya are still in Myanmar.
  7. International aid has provided 700,000 Rohingya with food, and aid is imperative to save the ethnic group. International help has greatly impacted the Rohingya community. In addition to food, countries, such as Pakistan and India, have helped with providing refugee camps for the Rohingya. Almost 100,000 people have been treated for malnutrition. By January 2018, 315,000 children have been vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. The U.K. has provided 59 million euros for those fleeing Myanmar, and the U.N. Security Council has appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence against the Rohingya.

The Rohingya genocide is described as “the world’s most persecuted minority.” Myanmar is committing crimes against humanity with ongoing violence, refugees, disease, malnutrition, poverty, etc. The Rohingya genocide must be seen through a humanitarian and moral lens to put an end to the atrocities being committed.

– Areina Ismail
Photo: Flickr

Rohingya Muslims in MyanmarAs the world has begun to pay more attention to the refugee crisis concerning Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the problem with State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s response—or lack thereof—has come under scrutiny.

The refugee crisis only illuminates the persecution of Rohingya that has been going on for decades. The U.N. reported that government troops in Myanmar have committed crimes against the minority Muslim population—such as murder, rape and arson—that have made living in their home country impossible.

Furthermore, the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have been denied citizenship since 1982, and are not considered to be one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups.

While the military in the country denies such allegations, thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar, hoping to find an escape from the brutality that has taken over their lives. Most Rohingya flee to neighboring countries, but the brutality against the refugees has not stopped, only transitioned from one predator to another. Aljazeera reports that the head of the U.N. International Organization for Migration (IOM) is “concerned” about the violence taking place in Bangladesh against the minority Muslim population, and has every right to be.

The violence is reported to be sexual in nature and gender-targeted, which only solidifies the concerns held by world leaders that Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi is not going to openly oppose the violence being carried out by citizens of her country against the Rohingya. In fact, the State Chancellor has refused to acknowledge the ethnic cleansing for quite some time.

Human rights groups and the U.N. have called on the State Chancellor to take action and stop the senseless murder of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Unfortunately, the politics of the situation are more complicated than it may seem.

The BBC reports that under Myanmar’s constitution, the military is a very powerful entity that prevents Myanmar from taking steps towards democracy. Despite calls by international leaders and human rights groups for Aung San Suu Kyi to denounce the violence, it is ultimately the military’s stronghold over the government that has prevented her from speaking out.

Still, many believe that the State Chancellor should be stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize that she was awarded in 1991.

Finally, after an unusual period of silence, the State Chancellor addressed the violence. Amid the confusion and horror that has become everyday life for the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has stated the Rohingya will be allowed to return to their home country.

The road home is seemingly far-off—a result of the military’s targeted violence towards their homes, crops and other resources essential for the Rohingya’s survival in Myanmar. However, many in the international community believe the recent attention drawn to the ethnic cleansing will have a positive effect and save the lives of those who need help.

For this reason, it is imperative that the world does not forget about the genocide occurring against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The international community must pay attention and provide any support necessary.

Jaxx Artz

Photo: Flickr

Education in Myanmar

Due to a variety of factors, the access to quality education in Myanmar is generally poor. Below are seven things everyone should know about education in Myanmar.

  1. The amount of money invested into education in Myanmar is low. Only 1.3 percent of the country’s GDP is allocated to education. This is lower than the average reported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Myanmar now ranks 164th out of 168 by the U.N. Human Development Index for public spending on education.
  2. In the 1940s and 1950s, Myanmar had one of the highest literacy rates out of all of the countries in Asia. Compared to its counterparts, Myanmar was expected to be one of the fastest developing areas in the region. However, a lack of funding has since decreased the access to quality education in Myanmar.
  3. Students do not get to choose what they study. Even if students choose to pursue secondary education, they have little choice in terms of their area of study. Students will be assigned to study a subject based on their previous test scores, even if the area they are forced to go into does not provide many job opportunities.
  4. Education in Myanmar is only mandatory for five years. After the five required years, many students drop out of school due to family financial struggles. At 50 percent, the number of kids enrolled in secondary education in Myanmar is about half of the enrollment percentage of secondary school students in the United Kingdom.
  5. Politics play a significant role in access to quality education in Myanmar. After trying to pass an education bill proposed in 2014 – that would give citizens less autonomy over their education – many students protested against the government. Though their behavior might have had them arrested in the past, they were successful in getting the government to reconsider the education bill, which was passed in 2015.
  6. The Quality Basic Education Program (QBEP) and UNICEF are working to improve access to education for all children in Myanmar. The QBEP strives to provide quality education services to 34 areas in Myanmar. Of QBEP’s aims, one of them is to provide help to children and communities that are the most disadvantaged.
  7. Over recent years, investment in education has improved. In a span of only two years, from 2012 to 2014, public spending on education in Myanmar increased by 49 percent.

Though the investment in education in Myanmar has improved in recent years, there is still a lot of progress to be made within the country’s education system. Many organizations, such as QBEP and UNICEF, are taking steps in the right direction by working to provide better access to education for all children in Myanmar.

Haley Rogers

Photo: Flickr

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

During the past month, Bangladesh and the world have watched in horror as 400,000 refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar in the wake of an increase in military crackdowns among Muslim Rohingya villages. Many have lost family members in the violence and all have lost their homes. In the wake of the catastrophic events that have unfolded, Bangladesh has been forced to absorb a majority of the shock as ad hoc camps have been built along the borders. With 31.5% of its population already living below the national poverty line, aiding the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh may prove difficult for the Bangladeshi government.

Myanmar has made international headlines over the past month as images surfaced of entire villages being burned and destroyed. Beginning in August of this year, Rohingya militants executed a series of attacks in Rakhine State, where a majority of Rohingyas reside. The Rohingya people are known to be one of the most persecuted communities in the world. They suffer from systematic discrimination by both the government and fellow citizens because they are seen as illegal.

The government of Myanmar responded to the attacks with what is considered by U.N. officials to be “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Thus far, the operation has killed more than 1,000 and forced over 400,000 from their homes.

While Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said last week in a televised broadcast that the country was ready to welcome back the refugees, there has been skepticism about how welcoming the country will actually be, considering its history of Rohingya mistreatment. Furthermore, she stated that the Rohingya refugees would be allowed back in via a “verification” process. It remains to be seen what that verification process would entail.

Considering the uncertain future for the Rohingya refugees, organizations and countries have already stepped up to not only help the refugees but also the country of Bangladesh, particularly since the economic burden of hosting 400,000 refugees has been great. While Bangladesh has been focusing on its own impoverished citizens, the U.N. has estimated that nearly $200 million will be needed to aid the Rohingya refugees for a period of just six months. Bangladesh has urged the international community to put pressure on Myanmar to halt the influx of refugees, and it has seemed to help.

The U.N. has reported a drop in Rohingya refugee arrivals to Bangladesh since the end of September. While the International Organization for Migration claims that this is “too soon to say that the influx is over,” it is still a small victory for both Bangladesh and the international community. Likewise, Bangladesh has received significant aid from surrounding countries, including 53 tons of relief materials from India. Those materials included rice, pulses, sugar, salt, cooking oil, tea, ready to eat noodles, biscuits and mosquito nets. Additionally, this week, the U.S. agreed to give $32 million in humanitarian aid in the form of food, medical care, water, sanitation and shelter. This comes at a crucial time, as the Bangladeshi government has agreed to build 14,000 temporary homes. This aid will go a long way to support the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh while their future in Myanmar is still unclear.

Sydney Roeder

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Myanmar
Following recent elections, human rights abuses in Myanmar continue. The new government, which took power in March 2016, has not limited military authority. The 2008 constitution gives the military extensive power within the government with no civilian oversight. This means that human rights in Myanmar are abused for political prisoners and ethnic minorities.

The military government suppressed opposing views and placed thousands of people in jail. People who have dissenting views are harassed, arrested without cause, tortured, imprisoned and sometimes executed. The current number of political prisoners is unknown because there is no clear method to account for them. Political prisoners face inhumane conditions, often without sufficient food or basic sanitation. Prisoners do not receive medical treatment, so many have lasting injuries from initial acts of violence in the prison.

People who speak out about human rights violations are often arrested and detained. This makes it very difficult for people to monitor and document the abuses in the country.

Ethnic minorities face the most significant threats to their human rights in Myanmar. Areas of the country with large populations of ethnic minorities lack educational, health and social services. The military has killed, tortured and sexually assaulted ethnic minorities. The areas where ethnic minorities live have been shelled and vandalized.

Soldiers rape ethnic women regularly as part of a military strategy. They do not face any prosecution for these widespread crimes. The government denies these reports and soldiers are not prosecuted for these crimes. There is no system for women to report sexual assault in the country. Displaced women are most vulnerable to assault and abductions.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, are currently facing human rights abuses. There are around 1.2 million ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar. After outbreaks of violence, media and humanitarian aid groups were not allowed to enter the northern Rakhine State. There have been reports of murder, torture, sexual violence and arrests. Satellite imagery showed 430 buildings destroyed by fire. It is believed that 30,000 Muslims are displaced from their villages. The government did not investigate these offenses and did not seek U.N. assistance.

The Rohingya do not have citizenship in Myanmar. This fact limits both their access to healthcare and education and their movements in the country.

In March 2017, the U.N. agreed to investigate human rights in Myanmar and the attacks against the Rohingya. Hopefully, this probe will bring attention to the abuses, justice for the victims and accountability to the government and military.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Flickr