Responding to poverty

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  The children we help are from really poor families with typical daily incomes ranging from £1.12 to £3.26.  An egg in Myanmar costs much the same as it does in UK, and medical and dental costs are often out of their reach, so it is a struggle to survive.  They experience all the problems of poverty everywhere, poor health, debt, alcoholism and insecure accommodation.  Many parents are illiterate too, with little understanding of the value of education, so they expect that children should work rather than study.


  Children are put to work to support the family income, or perhaps help pay interest from debts to money-lenders.  The result is that the family cannot afford the cost of giving the child the opportunity of regular education.  Thus the time when the children of relatively wealthier families are in school, these children have to work at full-time tedious jobs, or help out at home.


  Provision of education alone will not enable such children to access education.  Rather, we need to respond to the economic needs of the family as well.  Over the decade That S4SK and H4SS have been operating we have developed the following measures designed to address the economic needs of families:


  Family Support: We compensate families of working children for the loss of earnings while children are attending class.  This is a regular payment, in cash or rice, and is something the families can rely on as long as their children attend regularly;


  Social Work and parent education:  Our teachers are trained to be social workers too and visit each home.  They develop a rapport with families, discuss lifestyle issues which might affect children's wellbeing, and try to help with any problems before they lead to withdrawal of children from class;


  Social Work Bursary: We have a bursary fund which we use to respond to domestic emergencies.  In the past we have used it to repair or rebuild homes, pay medical bills, arrange child-care etc. - whatever it takes to keep the child coming to class;


  Poverty Alleviation Project: This year, in consultation with an expert in addressing urban poverty, Mike Slingsby MBE, and in cooperation with a local NGO called Women for the World, we initiated a new project aimed at helping families get out of debt through a package of measures including:

  • Formation of savings support groups;
  • Transfer of debts from moneylenders (who charge rates of around 20% per month) to H4SS;
  • The opportunity to undertake income-generating activities;
  • The opportunity to undergo vocational training.

For more information on how families become trapped in debt, with the result that their children have to work long hours to pay the high interest rates, please view this Al Jazeera documentary, 'Myanmar's Cycle of Debt', by Katie Arnold.  None of the families featured in the video are connected with H4SS-S4SK, but the problems they face are the same.  The video illustrates clearly how, to cover essential needs 

like health and housing, families with very low income are forced to borrow at rates of 20% to 30% per month.    Interest left outstanding at the end of the month is added to the principal sum, increasing the interest due for the next month, and so on.  Thus, relatively small loans can mushroom into huge debts. 

  So far fifteen families are saving regularly and the scheme has been able to help with loans to help clear debt, and occasionally to help with health issues.  This month (November 2019) we expect a further 12 families, in another area, to join the scheme.

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