Afifa* was only three years old when her family fled Myanmar for Bangladesh. “We couldn't imagine where we would live, what we would eat, what we would drink, what our future would be. Every moment was uncertain for us," said Rizia*, Afifa’s mother.
The family settled in a camp in Cox’s Bazar, an area home to close to a million Rohingya displaced from Myanmar after facing extreme violence and discrimination. Rizia’s immediate focus was on her children having access to education.
Under the Australian Humanitarian Partnership’s (AHP) activation in Bangladesh, Save the Children (SCI) and its implementing partner Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) have been operating 75 learning centres and nine Girl Friendly Spaces to provide access to education to children living in the camps.
Rizia enrolled Afifa and her siblings in the SCI-YPSA Khelaghor Learning Centre. There, the children begun learning numbers, life skills, and Burmese and English languages. Afifa, who is now seven years old, was particularly fond of drawing pictures and playing with friends, and enjoyed her learning centre activities.
But the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lockdown in the camps in 2020, meant that the learning centre closed. Afifa was confined to the shelter shed where her family resides, without access to education, play or fun. “I became worried about my children’s education because all the learning centers were closed for an uncertain amount of time,” Rizia said.
After a couple of months, Rizia heard about the learning centres engaging in outreach and small-group education, where groups of up to five children were able to take lessons with teachers. Following the Government of Bangladesh instruction to close all education facilities to reduce the spread of COVID-19, AHP partners shifted their learning programs to a caregiver-led approach, which is currently the only educational intervention available in the camps.
The adapted approach meant students formed small groups of 4 to 5 learners. Some 419 learning points were established for the groups to meet by SCI and YPSA, ensuring all hygiene precautions and proper social distancing were observed. Online training for partner staff and 156 Rohingya and Bangladeshi teachers was carried out, and individual outreach to parents and community leaders took place, as group meetings were not appropriate in the COVID-19 context.
From September 2020, to help reinforce the adapted approach, host community teachers started supporting Rohingya teachers and learners. Afifa was able to re-start her schooling by joining a small class, a huge relief to Rizia, and to Afifa as well, who was missing the connection and fun of school.
“I liked the idea of continuation of children’s education in small groups during this changed scenario because of COVID-19. It helped kids a lot in terms of having their lessons regularly, as well as for their mental health,” Rizia said. Students in the small groups also learned about COVID-19 prevention. “I learned to wash my hands properly here,” Afifa said.
With the active guidance and involvement of Camp in Charge offices, Save the Children and its partners have distributed 8,285 Education in Emergency kits, 8,285 Hygiene kits and 600 Dignity kits among the learners as well.
The AHP response in Bangladesh is now in its third phase, involving all six Australian NGO partners and numerous local partners on the ground in-country. The response focuses on WASH, the protection and inclusion of women, children, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups; education; adolescent reproductive health and support for host communities.