Champions of change in Myanmar
A year and a half since the February 2021 military takeover of Myanmar, the country is in the grip of an unprecedented human rights, economic and humanitarian crisis, while a state of emergency continues to be in place.
Almost 1.3 million people are currently displaced across the country.
As the UN team in Myanmar strives to address immediate needs, its eyes are on the future — supporting youth for longer-term development.
Support and aid for internally displaced persons (IDPs)
For Khine Mar, it has been a hard year. His family fled their home village in another part of Myanmar to avoid conflict and insecurity, leaving behind their rice fields and belongings. Khine Mar managed to secure a part-time job as a health assistant while taking care of his children.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Khine Mar lost all sources of income. He sought domestic work around his neighborhood but there was little demand. “It has not been easy for us since the pandemic hit. Some organizations provided us with assistance such as food and essentials, but travel and access restrictions made such support irregular,” he said.
Khine Mar was among the residents of the camp to receive a cash transfer of approximately $30 (65,000 MMK) provided by the Livelihoods and Food Security Fund (LIFT), a multi-donor fund managed by UNOPS that helps IDPs cover basic food needs or buy basic goods and services to protect themselves from COVID-19 and its socio-economic impacts.
“It’s the first time I receive such significant support and it was timely and helpful,” said Khine Mar of the cash transfer. He used part of the payment to buy food for his family and is cooking more nutritious meals for his children.
LIFT delivers relief, livelihood, and resilience programming to vulnerable communities across Myanmar. By scaling up multi-purpose cash transfer assistance, food assistance and vouchers, cash/food for work schemes, psychosocial support and counselling services for trauma and gender-based violence, LIFT and partners reached over 131,000 vulnerable people with social protection programmes in 2021 alone.
Champions of change: Empowering young people
Ji Taung and Htet Myat Aung, both 22, live in Kachin State, the northernmost state of Myanmar, bordering China. But their life experiences have been poles apart.
For the past 11 years, Ji Taung has lived in a camp for IDPs with her parents, grandparents and six siblings. Her family, like tens of thousands of others in Kachin, were uprooted due to protracted conflict.
At first, Ji Taung found it hard to adapt to conditions in the camp. “It was suffocating — there were too many people.” she said. The communal unisex bathrooms and the lack of educational opportunities have been hard for Ji Taung and other girls living in the camp.
In contrast, Htet Myat Aung has never been displaced. His family runs a rice store. Yet the last few years have not been easy.
“We used to make enough money before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the daily price increases and security challenges worsened our situation,” said Htet Myat Aung, whose studies were disrupted by the current crisis.
“Most of the youths here feel lost and hopeless”
To support adolescents in Kachin State, UNICEF and Plan International, with funds from the Government of Canada, have started a life skills training programme, Champions of Change, providing adolescents and youth with eight weeks of curated training and ‘sharing sessions’ on topics like reproductive health, gender equality, gender-based violence, and soft skills such as confidence building.
The programme prioritises vulnerable children who may not be able to afford or pursue an education. Graduates of Champions of Change are given the opportunity to pursue vocational training that will prepare them to start small businesses or work in local organizations.
Ji Taung and Htet Myat Aung were trained with other Champions of Change graduates for leadership roles as peer-to-peer knowledge sharing facilitators in their community.
Since 2021, Ji Taung has been facilitating discussions with pregnant women, mothers, and young people.
After he became a facilitator, Htet Myat Aung saw for the first time how his peers in the camps were living. “Unlike our wards, the camps are tightly packed with not much spare space. Each family gets only one room, and it must be unbearably hot in summer,” said Htet Myat Aung.
These days, Htet Myat Aung visits the camps both to facilitate sessions and to meet friends that he has made there.
“I have gained the ability and courage to speak up for myself and others.”
Besides helping their peers and communities, Ji Tuang and Htet Myat Aung both feel empowered now. Ji Taung recalls how she and her friends from IDP camps used to be bullied at school, and they were sometimes called ‘exiles.’ “I was young and afraid to stand up for myself,” she said.
To date, the Champions of Change programme has benefited over 1,100 adolescents and young people from Kachin State. So far, 700 people have taken part in the vocational training, and 117 of them are now working as professionals.
This story draws from previously published stories by UN Myanmar (Story 1 and Story 2). Editorial support provided by the UN Development Coordination Office.
For more information on the UN's work in Myanmar, please visit: Myanmar.un.org. To learn more about the results of our work in this area and beyond, please read the UNSDG Chair Report on DCO.