"We are all struggling to provide protection in line with the Ministry of Health and Sports guidance for school re-opening and your assistance is very important to us.”

Nan Hnin Yu, headteacher, Kawkareik Elementary School

Across the world, schools have been making preparations so children can return safely whilst the threat of COVID-19 remains. In Kayin State, Myanmar, headmistress Nan Hnin Yu desperately wants her children to restart lessons, but with resources already stretched, preparations are difficult.

Kayin lies to the east of Yangon, sharing a long border with Thailand. It is home to the Karen people who have been fighting a protracted war with the Burmese authorities for greater autonomy since 1949. A peace agreement was brokered in 2015, which has brought some stability to the region despite occasional breaches.

Protecting the Vulnerable

Living conditions for families are hard, with many displaced from their homes, staying in temporary camps, or remote communities. Thanks to funding from the UK Government, HALO has been working in the state for the last five years, teaching people how to stay safe from the landmines left behind by the fighting and surveying the area ready for when work can begin to make the land safe.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Myanmar, our teams stepped in to help protect the already vulnerable population. In partnership with DanChurchAid, and with funding from UNOCHA, HALO began distributing essential hygiene supplies throughout Kayin State. Thanks to the support of the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, we were able to use our vehicles and teams to reach families living in remote villages, camps and quarantine stations across the region.

Back to School Safely

In July, like many countries in lockdown, the Myanmar government began to look towards children being able to return to school. For western nations, this has been a logistical struggle, but in Myanmar, where access to clean water and basic hygiene supplies is already limited, it felt almost impossible for headteachers like Nan Hnin Yu. Again our teams were able to assist, extending their work to include the procurement and installation of washbasins and the distribution of soap and sanitiser to local schools. Despite the additional challenges of the monsoon season, this was achieved by the end of August. The schools are now ready to reopen safely for their 7,500 pupils in the coming weeks.

The support to the schools of Kayin is just one small part of a larger operation by HALO that, since April, has provided COVID assistance to more than 60,000 people in Myanmar, made possible by funding from UNOCHA and the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.