Children at Ywar Thit primary school in Meiktila Township, Myanmar, October 17, 2017. Photo by Aimee Neaverson
“How are waves made?” asks a child from a group of eight-year-old students in Ywar Thit primary school in Meiktila Township, Myanmar.
Ywar Thit is over 100 miles from the sea, but the children have been learning about flooding at school and, after seeing pictures of waves, are eager to find out more.
Myanmar is one of the countries most vulnerable to disasters and climate extremes globally, and is currently undergoing major institutional, economic and social change.
In this context, the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) project in Myanmar – known as the Myanmar Alliance and led by Plan International – helps empower communities in 155 villages across hilly, dry and coastal zones in the country tackle climate extremes such as flooding.
Children are a particular focus of the programme’s approach to disaster risk reduction, with Plan International proposing a shift from viewing children as passive victims to seeing them as agents of change for their own well-being and the development of their communities.
Although the focus on children and youth in climate disasters tends to be on their vulnerability, this perspective ignores their potential to be actors in limiting the impact of disasters on their communities.
Young people have their own views on climate change and can put their ideas in practice as solutions, for example by helping plan evacuation routes in their village when floods hit.
Research also shows that children can play an important role in talking about climate change within and beyond their communities. They understand risks in their own way, often relating them back to their experiences – for example, when a flood submerges their neighbourhood, their route to school may be blocked and their learning disrupted.
Recognising that children have a vital role to play as future leaders in their communities, Myanmar Alliance facilitates school activities that raise awareness of climate change, such as encouraging children to draw or write poems and essays on themes related to climate change and disasters.
“We noticed that children are quick learners and fast messengers so they will talk to their family and friends – that is one effective method for sharing knowledge,” said Khin Win Kyi, resilience and livelihoods manager at ActionAid Myanmar – a local project partner.
In Meiktila Township, children are learning more about the impact of climate change through “climate change resilience student groups”, which were piloted by ActionAid Myanmar in three villages in 2016 and recently expanded under BRACED.
During a project visit to the school in Ywar Thit, children showcased their drawings on climate change impacts in their village, which illustrated how flooding had washed away their families’ livestock, crops and possessions.
After piloting the groups and receiving positive feedback from parents and teachers at the end of the school year, the local government has increased funding to support 30 student groups across Meiktila.
ActionAid Myanmar has since conducted “training of trainers” sessions for teachers to lead the new groups and create their own learning resources. The local government plans to expand the student groups to all schools in Meiktila in the future – a total of 245.
By focusing on school-based activities, the project hopes to improve children’s knowledge of climate change and encourage them to be climate champions, helping build resilience in the broader community.
Head teachers, too, are showing support by building climate resilience into their school curriculum to target children of all ages: some children are identifying areas at high risk of flooding during the monsoon season within their school compounds and planting trees, for example.
Children will have to live with increasingly severe climate risks, so it is crucial that they be included in the decisions that affect their future. Climate resilient development programmes must therefore incorporate children’s perspectives into their activities and use their ideas, knowledge and hunger for action. As Khin Win Kyi points out, “investing in children is an investment for the future”.