Myanmar (Burma): Community-Based Assistance for Persons with Disabilities

In Myanmar (Burma), a lack of understanding about persons with disabilities (PWDs) and poor infrastructural accessibility are making it difficult for PWDs to go to school or find employment. In order to assist PWDs in the country, AAR Japan has operated a vocational training center since 2000 and supported a school for children with disabilities since 2001. Since 2009, AAR Japan has been working striving to create a society in Myanmar that provides educational and employment opportunities for all people, with or without disabilities.

Getting More Involvement from the Community

In Dala and Shwe Phy Thar townships in the capital city of Yangon (Rangoon), AAR Japan is helping PWDs to establish and operate self-help groups. Each group, composed of 10-20 PWDs, is working to raise awareness about PWDs in the region and increase educational and employment opportunities for PWDs in the community. When a new group starts, AAR Japan staff members give them a lecture about basic knowledge such as the rights of PWDs and the advantages of working as a group. Next, AAR Japan conducts training sessions on topics such as leadership and accounting for efficient operation of the group’s activities. Later, AAR Japan helps them generate income by donating livestock and supporting the start of new businesses. Currently, six self-help groups are active in the two townships.

May 31st, 2012 – A workshop conducted by an AAR Japan staff member for a PWD self-help group. The participants were all eagerly listening to the lecturer.
A Self-Help Group in Dala Township Opens a Barbershop

A self-help group in Dala, in which there were two members who had completed the hairdressing course at AAR Japan’s vocational training center, decided to open and run a barbershop. They discussed the location and the interior design of the shop, and worked together on securing a land for the shop and advertising to the community of the opening. Backed up with AAR Japan’s financial support, the barbershop finally opened in July of this year.
One of the group members, for whom this was the first time working, expressed the joy of participating in society, saying, “Running a shop isn’t easy, but it’s a great pleasure to have our own shop and earn money by ourselves.” Nay Lin Aung, a 23 year-old barber says, “It would’ve been very hard to start a shop by oneself. However, I was fortunate to be able to achieve that goal in cooperation with all the other members.” In the future, they plan to allocate 70% of their profit  to running costs of the shop such as expenditure on electricity and salary for the barbers, and the rest will be saved and used for opening a new business like a grocery or dressmaking shop.

August 15th, 2012 – The bright and cheerful interior was collectively decided by the group. The members also negotiated with the local government and got free use of the land for the shop.

“You Can Go to School Even If You Have a Disability”

In the townships of Dala and Shwe Pyi Thar, the enrollment rate of school-aged children with disabilities is just around 30%. That is partly because there still are many families who believe that children with disabilities will not be admitted to school. In response, AAR Japan has been visiting those families with the self-group members to help family members understand the importance of education and the fact that children with disabilities can also attend school with the support from the community and school.
If there is a school that does not accept students with disabilities, we visit the school to hold discussions with local education authorities and principals of the school. We have also helped improve accessibility of schools by donating desks that are suitable for wheelchair users and renovating the school environment. Furthermore, targeting teachers of children with disabilities, AAR Japan conducts workshops to explain the importance of special considerations for those children, for instance, the need for patience when dealing with students with disabilities because they tend to take a longer time to complete a task, but that does not necessarily mean they are incompetent. So far, 103 children with disabilities in Dala and Shwe Pyi Thar have been able to go to school. AAR Japan is also assisting school-aged children with disabilities, who cannot afford to go to school, by offering them school uniforms and other school supplies. In addition, we arrange private tutors for children who take time to learn.

May 29th, 2012 – Pictured in the center is Nine Nine One from Dala township, a boy who attends school with the support from AAR Japan. From the right to left is Sanae HAYASHI, national staff member Tun Aung Myint, and Akemi KITA of AAR Myanmar office.

 “I’m Happy to Return to School and Learn”
AAR Japan helped a local boy to enroll in school. The boy is Nine Nine One, a 13 year-old who has a disability in his legs caused by cerebral palsy. When he was young, his mother carried him to school every day in her arms. However, he had to give up school as he grew too big and his mother could no longer hold him AAR Japan intervened by improving the physical accessibility of his school by installing a ramp at the entrance, and modified his wheelchair, which was provided by another organization, for an easier commute. All the efforts paid off and he is now going to school again. AAR Japan is assisting him further by arranging a private teacher so that he can catch up with his classmates. Nine says, “I’m glad to be able to learn in school again. I want to study computer science, and work at the AAR Japan office in the future so that I can assist other PWDs.”

In addition to supporting the operation of self-help groups of PWDs, AAR Japan is committed to raising awareness of people in the community and local authorities about disabilities by holding workshops. Through the cooperation with the group members, we will continue to strive to bring more educational and employment opportunities to PWDs in the country.
These activities have been made possible by individual donations, Grant Aid for Japanese NGO projects from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Felissimo Earth Village Fund, and Sekisui House Matching Program.

AAR Japan Myanmar Office: Akemi KITA
Has been working in AAR’s Myanmar (Burma) Office since February, 2012. After working at a hospital as a medical technologist, studied public health in Canada and Thailand, then joined AAR Japan.