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Meet the teacher volunteering in the Rohingya refugee camps

VSO/Abir Abdullah

Thousands of Rohingya refugee children are out of school and risk getting left behind for good. Volunteer education specialist Fiona Kirby shares how VSO is helping them get the education they deserve.

VSO education volunteer Fiona Kirby With Rohingya refugees VSO/Abir Abdullah

Fiona Kirby talks with a Rohingya mother and her children at the home-based child friendly center at Jamtoli, Ukhiya

Before I arrived in Bangladesh, I'd seen news coverage on the Rohingya refugee crisis, but you really don’t get the scale until you see it – it’s enormous. There are so many camps, they’re all huge and it’s overwhelming.

People are living in makeshift homes, having left everything they know behind them. They just want to live in an ordinary way and get on with their everyday lives like any of us.

And like any one of us, they want an education for their children.

Bringing the power of volunteering to the camps

VSO volunteers in the Rohingya refugee camps

National VSO volunteers brief the local volunteers before they take part in some field work.

People in these camps are sharing their skills and knowledge, working alongside the community volunteers.

It’s all about people-power.

The children don’t have anywhere to learn and play in the camps – it’s too dangerous and the resources just aren’t there.

What’s unique about this work is that it is centred around home-based learning.

I trained three national volunteers in early childhood education and how children learn through play.

After the training, they then trained 12 community volunteers who work with mothers in the camps, in turn training them to be able to educate their young children at home.

Rohingya children play with the toys donated by VSO VSO/Abir Abdullah

When the children got the toys, they were so happy they immediately started to play with them.

I believe they are entitled to the very best start, as any child in any part of the world is. They have an entitlement to their education.

Fiona Kirby

VSO volunteer education specialist

Making learning fun

Early childhood learning is different to learning later on. This has to be a stage where it’s active, play-based and good fun.

In early childhood, songs and rhymes are an essential part of speaking and listening and early literacy. We’re using Burmese young children’s songs for the mothers to teach the children, hopefully with music.

Early childhood should be fun. The children have just a few little toys, which have a limited lifespan and learning potential. We’re looking into how we can get them proper toys to help them learn through play.

The other thing we really need is storybooks. I didn’t see one in the whole time I was there. Books are such an important part of education – especially ones with nice pictures in.

Every child’s right to education

The mothers who are learning how to become educators are very willing – they’re delightful people who do want to do their best. The children I’ve met were just lovely too. I want them to have quality, and not just something to fill in the time for them.

I believe they are entitled to the very best start, as any child in any part of the world is. They have an entitlement to their education.

Rohingya mother and children enjoying an education session VSO/Abir Abdullah

Rohingya children play with the toys donated by VSO at the home-based child friendly center at Jamtoli.

The future

 VSO volunteers with children in the Rohingya camps VSO/Abir Abdullah

Fiona talks with the Rohingya children with the help of national VSO volunteers at the home based child friendly center at Jamtoli, Ukhiya

These people don’t know how long they’ll be here. Their futures are uncertain – so it’s vital that we’re able to continue this project for as long as it’s needed.

The Rohingya people are just living their lives. They’re no different from anyone else, other than they’re more vulnerable and uncomfortable.

They’re like young children and families anywhere and they deserve the best that we can give them.

The reality is that these are just children. Like children anywhere, they need a good start in life.

And we can help. That’s why I’m here: to get them the best start. Making sure the right people are being trained to work with them and that their early childhoods are the happiest they can be.

How can I help?

The Rohingya children deserve an education just like anyone else. Your support could help give them the books, toys and safe places to learn and grow.