Our residential care for the street children has been run by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Mandalay, Myanmar since 2010. We first came in contact with a group of street children at a Buddhist Monastery in a slum area. These children came from different parts of the country and gathered together in small groups there. They can be found in the railway station at times and other times at the monastery, under the bridge and in the slum area near the river side. Most of them are addicted to glue sniffing and beg for their basic needs. They are aged between 3-20 years old. They roam around the city streets all day and, very often, they are in danger of abuse and exploitation.
Upon seeing the unsafe situation of these children, we started to reach out to them by visiting them on a regular basis at the monastery, in the railway station, under the bridge and slum areas. We discovered that they are on the streets due to poverty, family breakdown and being the victims of domestic violence and abuse. In the very beginning, it was not easy for them to trust us and they would not collaborate with us. But we kept visiting them just to have a friendly chat with them and to listen to their feelings, problems and challenges. After spending several times with them, we gained their trust which helped us to build relationship with them.
We gradually include in our chatting some informal values education and moral lessons. In order to help them effectively, we initially collaborated with World Vision and Salesians of Don Bosco street boys’ center who were already in contact with some of the street children. After having had friendship with the children, we showed the possibilities of leading a more stable life where they can find life that is meaningful and worth living. For those who wish, we welcome them to our temporary shelter where they can have access to basic facilities such as food, clothing, and a safe place to sleep, learn and play. As they realize the instability and danger in their lives, some girls voluntarily decide to stay in our shelter giving up their unstable life on the streets and the glue sniffing.
Our temporary shelter facilities program gradually introduced counselling sessions, psycho-social support, life skills training, formal education and vocational training. Some of them successfully finished formal education or vocational training after which they are able to start a new life by finding a decent job and reintegrating back into their own family and society. However, there are still some of them, after being some time in our shelter, who choose to go back to the streets and continue to struggle with their problems and the addiction. We continue to journey with them wherever they are and offer assistance whenever they need by collaborating with the teachers, parents, social workers and community authorities.
As some of them live on the streets, oftentimes they come in contact with the justice system. Many of them did not commit any crimes but the officials from the City Development Office swept them from the street and detained them in the Juvenile Justice Center. There has been a steady increase in the number of street girls being arrested. In order to provide them assistance, we collaborate with the staff from the Government’s Department of Social Welfare. Having obtained the permission to enter the Center, we offer the children non-formal education and life skills in small groups. Despite all these good works, our collaboration with government is still limited to secure release and resettlement of the young girls from the juvenile center.
We hope to increase more effective collaboration with the staff of the Social Welfare Department in assisting the girls in the detention center. Embracing all the hardships and challenges, we continue to strive for a greater efficiency and work for the rights of the young street girls here in Mandalay City.
Submitted by Sr. Jennifer Kay Thi Kyaw