06/09/2022, 16.38
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Golden Beehive kindergarten opens near a Yangon landfill

by Alessandra De Poli

Some 60 pre-schoolers have benefitted from the latest project by New Humanity International, leaving their parents to work during the day. Those behind the initiative also want to get the children registered with the authorities io ensure they have access to medical care and higher education.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – There is no shortage of solidarity initiatives in Myanmar, this despite the difficulties the country has experienced over the past year and a half.

One new project, the Golden Beehive, is by New Humanity International, a kindergarten for four-year-old children who live at a landfill in Insein, a township on the edge of Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital.

“The beehive conjures up the idea of care more than any other image. New-born bees must wait at least 21 days before they can leave their cell while the larger bees look after them and feed them royal jelly,” said Fr José Magro, speaking to AsiaNews.

“We chose gold because it is the colour of Myanmar, the golden land of Buddhism,” added the Brazilian-born PIME missionary who works with New Humanity International.

The idea of a kindergarten came to him from meeting with the local community. “I shop at a large market near where I live. Locals eke out a living day by the day, selling what they find in the landfill or working at a factory, but with no certainty about the next. They might may earn something one day, but don’t know if they will the day after.”

About 350 families live at the landfill in Insein, which is located in a neighbourhood that has a large government prison. Most of them moved here after Hurricane Nargis in 2008 in which more than 138,000 people lost their lives.

At the market, Fr José got to chat with people and was eventually invited to some homes. Sipping some tea or eating some rice, he got the idea of a school for the children who spend most of the day alone at the landfill while their parents work.

Since it opened just over a month ago, the Golden Beehive has welcomed 60 children, half in the morning, from 8 am to 12 noon, and half in the afternoon, from noon to 4 pm. Six teachers are in charge of classes and games, while two take the children home and talk to the parents to see if there any issues.

At first the families were wary. “Usually if teachers visit parents, it is to tell them that the children have misbehaved,” Fr José explained. “But they are slowly opening up so we can understand if there are difficult situations and if we can do something to take care of the parents as well.”

A few days ago, a 27-year-old man left his 24-year-old wife and four-year-old child, the clergyman noted. “We are doing everything we can to help the mother and the baby. Unfortunately, alcohol abuse is a major issue; a small flask costs less than a bottle of milk.”

Speaking with parents, the teachers found out that families can only provide their children with one meal a day. At the New Humanity International kindergarten, children are always given lunch, with meat or eggs, food that families can hardly afford.

But the ultimate goal of the school is to get the children registered with the authorities. Those who live at the landfill, in fact, have no papers and therefore do not exist for the government.

"Some have lived here for almost 20 years and do not know their date of birth,” Fr José lamented. Without papers, people have no access to healthcare or education.

A volunteer doctor and a nurse have seen all the little patients at the Golden Beehive. "The doctor decided to monitor a woman who has a major thyroid problem and needs to be operated. But since no one can afford to go to a clinic or visit a dentist, anyone providing medical care here has their work cut out.”

Solidarity is holding together Myanmar’s pieces, a country devastated by 16 months of civil war.

“In Yangon there are several government agencies, and there is no open conflict like in Shan or Kachin or in the rural areas of the country. Occasionally, we hear an explosion or hear about the killing of some local community leader who worked with the junta, but afterwards life goes on as usual.”

On 1 February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. After an initial period of peaceful protests, fighting broke out between regular troops and the People's Defence Forces, the armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG) set up in exile, and supported by the armed wings of some of the country’s ethnic groups.

"Despite everything, we encourage families to send their children to school,” Fr José noted, “so that they can at least continue to study; at the landfill they would have no chance.” Just like a real beehive, the Golden Beehive is becoming a refuge from the atrocities of war.

Meanwhile, “We are going to expand the activities of the centre, with Saturday and Sunday school for the older children,” Fr José explained. Yet, “families don't know we're priests,” he added. “We don't tell them, since they wouldn't understand. We are happy to live by bearing witness alone.”

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