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Sep 9, 2020

The transforming power of education

Dr ShweHuLian, FEP graduate & Health & Hope staff
Dr ShweHuLian, FEP graduate & Health & Hope staff

Many families in Chin State are faced with the overwhelming reality of premature death on a regular basis. Poverty, access to medicines and health care services, education and diet are all contributing factors. The devastating consequences of loss are all encompassing and affect every aspect of life.

The Freedom to Education Project (FEP) is an opportunity for young people to see cycles of poverty broken and to make a significant difference to the lives of their families and communities. Dr Shwehulian was an FEP student who studied medicine in the Philippines for seven years. He qualified as a medical doctor in 2017 before completing a post graduate internship year. The following testimony is Shwehulian's story of loss and a life transformed through hope and education:

 

My name is Shwehulian, I am the youngest of seven children.  I now work as a medical doctor for Health & Hope. I grew up in a small village in Chin State. My father was a government trained public health worker and my mother took care of the children and ran the house. 

In 2002 my father passed away after suffering an acute asthma attack. We had no access to life saving medication like salbutamol that could have saved him. Two years later, in 2004, one of my older brothers passed away during a mining accident as he tried to earn enough money to feed his family. He was taken to a local hospital, but with limited access to medications, equipment and staff, the hospital was ill-equipped to deal with patients presenting with significant trauma. 

The following year, in 2005, my sister became pregnant with her fifth child. It was a normal pregnancy, but she passed away during childbirth. The baby survived and was given to my aunt to look after. That same year, five women from my sisters village died during childbirth. 

I decided in that moment that I had to do something. How many more people needed to die for lack of doctors, medicines and adequate health care? I was prepared to do anything, maybe become a health care worker, maybe even a doctor. That was my dream! I decided to study English so that I could go somewhere to study.  At 13 years old I spent my school holidays walking across the border into India to sell chickens and buy gasoline for my family. Whilst there, I found a little work cleaning windows or out on the farms and with that money I bought books to study. I had never owned anything in my life, I was so proud of my books. 

During one journey I was kidnapped by the local army and for 2 weeks they trained me to become a soldier. I was afraid and cried a lot. Eventually they let me go, but not before they had taken all my chickens and eaten them.

In 2006 my brother suffered an acute asthma attack. The nearest hospital was a few days travel through the mountains and we had to cross a large river. As we crossed the river our boat capsized, and my brother drowned. I couldn’t save him.

This was the turning point for me, I was angry, hurting and
I knew I had to do something. I pushed myself through school to achieve the grades I needed to study at college. For years I faced failure after failure, lost faith in myself and wanted to give up. I could not have imagined how low I felt. Despite my situation, Dr Sasa was a constant support for me, he encouraged and challenged me to not give up on my studies.

I still cannot believe now that I am a qualified doctor! I am passionate about improving the health of my community and providing access to medicines and services I never had the privilege of having as I grew up. 

  

This year Health & Hope are supporting 15 students through the FEP. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools and universities remain closed and online classes have been made available. Health & Hope staff continue to support the FEP students through their studies and are committed to ensuring the students are given every opportunity to reach their potential. 

Your support is not only changing the lives of the individual students, but also having a wider-reaching impact on local communities through providing the skills and expertise needed to reach out and sustain our work amongst the most vulnerable in western Myanmar. Thank you!

 

Dr Shwe Hu Lian running an outreach clinic
Dr Shwe Hu Lian running an outreach clinic
Dr Shwe Hu Lian running an outreach clinic
Dr Shwe Hu Lian running an outreach clinic
Health & Hope staff-many of whom are FEP graduates
Health & Hope staff-many of whom are FEP graduates
Sep 2, 2020

Education for All: The results are in!

Staff team with students and school building
Staff team with students and school building

Education for All was launched in June 2019, and is a long sought-after education initiative which aims to tackle the dismal Grade 10 pass rate amongst ‘repeater students’, who have attempted to take the Grade 10 exam at High School and failed.  Without support, these students have no further opportunities to study and are unable to find employment.  

The education system in Myanmar currently excludes rural, poor, ethnic minority children due to language barriers, location, poverty, and curriculum content. Pre-school coverage in Chin State is severely limited and the levels of supervision and quality of teaching vary widely. Children often receive no teaching in their ethnic language. These problems continue into primary school and beyond, which, combined with high levels of household poverty, contribute to extremely high drop out rates. As a result, less than 5.5% of youths will make it through school to pass their critical Grade 10 exams. 

Last year, over a 9 month period, Education for All provided 96 students from 30 remote villages targeted education, aiming to significantly improve the Grade 10 matriculation rate and future life opportunities for these students. 

 

Student Results

National Grade 10 exam results in Myanmar were released on 9th August 2020.  The national average showed that 32% of students passed their exams. 

Mon State, the leading state for many years in Grade 10 results, dropped from a 37% pass rate in 2019 to only 34% in 2020.  Yangon, representing by far the most urban areas of the country, was consistent with the prior year scoring 32.8%. 

Chin State as a whole scored 21.2% this year, slightly higher than last year, but in Lailenpi, the small town where the project is based, the pass rate was only 14.2% (38 out of 266 students). The government school this year only achieved 10% and only 10 out of 112 students from the rural villages attending the examination centre passed (9%).

Given this context, we were delighted that in the first year of the Education for All project, we achieved a 31% pass rate with 27 out of 87 students passing their exams.

We are so proud of the Education team and their hard work that has resulted in such a successful first year of the project. Especially given that the staff were relatively inexperienced in teaching and the project took in students that had previously failed their exams without any selection and so there was significant work needed to develop their understanding of the curriculum. 

Without your support, only 9% of students coming from remote villages would have passed their exams based on the performance of the examination centre.  Achieving 31%, a pass rate consistent with major urban areas, and almost 10% higher than the local private school (which has been operating for almost a decade) was a major accomplishment.

You may remember previously reading about one of the students, Ester, who is delighted to have passed her exams and is excited to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse to help her community. 

 

Student Testimony

Sahnei is one of the students who attended the Education for All project after failing his class 10 exam eight times. He was originally in the same class as Dipar, one of the FEP graduates who is now teaching as part of the Education for All project. 

Dipar recalls meeting her old classmate when they were enrolling students: “Yesterday when I was receiving the students for Education for All, unexpectedly I met one of my Year 10 classmates. Incredibly, he has been trying to pass class 10 since 2010 when I was also taking the same exam. As soon as I met him, he said to me: "I really need your help to pass my year 10". I am so touched by what my friend said to me. I really hope and pray that this project will be a blessing for many students.”

Sadly, the frustration of failing his exams so many times and limited opportunities for his future, had left Sahnei in a bad place. This is what Sahnei had to say:

“Since I failed year 10 so many times, I had lost hope and had started taking drugs. It was hard to make the decision to come to the Education for All project as I was shy and embarrassed to be a student of some of my friends. But I enrolled in the school and my life was changed. The teachers helped me so much in doing my lessons and we also did devotions, Bible reading and praying. It really touched my heart and changed my life.

In March I took the Grade 10 exams for the 9th time. I am so thankful to Dr Sasa, the Health & Hope team - by the grace of God I have passed my exams!

Now I have hope for my future - I really want to work for my people. I am already helping students in my village who are studying Grade 10. Finally now I can look for a job. And I would like to do a distance learning course for University to further my studies.”

 

We are so grateful for your support in helping us to launch the first year of the Education for All project.  Despite the incredibly challenging context and many lessons we have learnt, we have seen the students flourish in their confidence and understanding throughout the year.  Even though many students require ongoing support to pass their exams, we were delighted that the project achieved a strong result in its first year.

 

What is next?

The team are now busy preparing for the next year of the project - the start of which has been slightly delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as the exam results had been published, the team opened up applications for the coming year. A total of 183 students applied, of which 158 have been selected to enrol in the project. 16 of those successful students are refugees currently living in Internally Displaced People Camps due to ongoing conflict. We are excited to welcome our new students in due course and to create a space for them to thrive and grow under the care and guidance of our Education Team. 

 

Thank you again for your continued support of our work. 

Classes in process
Classes in process
Joy in the classroom
Joy in the classroom
Dipar teaching a class
Dipar teaching a class
Sahnei, EfA student who passed Grade 10
Sahnei, EfA student who passed Grade 10
A huge 'thank you' from the EfA students and team
A huge 'thank you' from the EfA students and team

Links:

May 18, 2020

Delivering essential services to communities in crisis

Maaike & Frances, volunteer midwives
Maaike & Frances, volunteer midwives

Thank you for your continued support of this project. 

Despite the current global COVID-19 outbreak, the Health & Hope team in Myanmar are still supporting the most vulnerable communities in the region. Delivering services such as maternal and neonatal care remains essential. With government health service provision even more restricted during the present crisis, locally trained, specialist birth attendants play a critical role in remote rural communities.

Two midwives from the UK, Maaike and Frances, were in western Myanmar working in the villages prior to the restrictions put in place in March. In this report, Maaike reflects on the situation for women and health workers in the villages and the achievements in local care as a result of your support for this project.

 

Maaike:

“Since 2013 we have engaged with Health & Hope in Chin State, to deliver education to Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) working in the most rural and unsupported areas of the region. Around 200 TBAs have now participated in our 5-day education programs on pregnancy, birth and immediate post-natal care and also on managing emergency situations. 

In order to extend the reach of this work, in April 2018 we introduced a ‘Train the Trainer’ program. Eight experienced TBAs were trained to deliver essential education to other TBAs in the most inaccessible villages. This meant the equipping of volunteers can continue year-round, rather than waiting for another visit from the UK. They also have capacity to travel further into remote areas than a time-restricted visitor from overseas would be able to manage.

We were glad to be able to return in March 2020, and evaluate how the local trainers are already getting on. It was clear that they have been active and successful in rolling out the program in remote villages as tasked. This voluntary role requires a lot of commitment. When we asked them what practical/domestic difficulties they experienced from being away from home for up to six days at a time, they said they are well supported by their husbands, and that other village women help out, too. They feel proud of what they do and believe passionately in its value. This gives them confidence to press on.

The numbers of TBAs who have received training in locations that had not been accessed before is hugely encouraging. During just four months, 47 TBAs had received training for the first time. In addition, many villagers have had the opportunity to learn basic health knowledge such as hand washing, personal hygiene, nutrition and sexual health by joining in with the training. 

In all the villages, great interest was shown in the work of the local trainers by the Village Elders. This has raised respect for the importance of the work of TBAs, and strengthened the goodwill and trust placed in the services offered by Health & Hope. It is clear that the local trainers’ work has generated proactive support to enhance the safety of childbearing women, and boosted the ‘buy-in’ of communities to the public health education that the team is rolling out alongside.

Of the training provided in villages, one Trainer of Trainers reported: “The town administrator came to our training and he was so impressed that he said all women should come, and the men should also learn. He then gave us a chicken to take home in appreciation of our work!“

During this visit, 18 Area Co-ordinators (16 men and 2 women) also joined the programme to receive training, specifically covering emergency situations and how to deal with complications during birth. These Area Co-ordinators (ACs) are an established group who have been trained together initially as Community Health Workers (CHWs) and  are now responsible for overseeing up to 15 CHWs in their region. In many village situations, where there is no TBA present, they may be the only person available to support a woman in pregnancy.  We also became aware that they are often the only trained healthworkers attending births.

Our programme of training is off to a great start, and we are so grateful for your support. There is still much more to be done to continue to deliver this vital, life-saving training, and to equip local volunteers with the skills they need to support women through child-birth and ongoing childcare. Thank you for your generous help which is enabling our work.”

Looking forward to the coming year, the project will shift to focus more on the local trainers' work in remote villages, enabling them to conduct more training workshops with only one monitoring visit from the UK-based midwives.

During this time we are continuing to deliver critical services to vulnerable communities in addition to a COVID-19 Prevent, Detect, Respond strategy in 143 villages across Chin State. If you would like to find out more about this project, please click here.

Thank you once again for your committed support to these essential projects.

Training workshops
Training workshops
COVID-19 response
COVID-19 response

Links:

 
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