As you approach this tall, yellow, worn-down house, the cheerful notes of a local song drift out into the street. Inside, colourful hand drawn cartoons of flooding and droughts, the symptoms of Myanmar’s emerging struggle with climate change, cover the walls. In the middle of the room is a lively group of 10 young people dancing to a song about food waste.
Oxford Languages named “climate emergency” its Word of the Year for 2019. Building on this momentum, ACTED Myanmar and its local partner Gaihahita are working to combat climate change and its impacts by implementing an environmental education project for children and youth.
Myanmar faces many development challenges, and climate change represents one of the biggest. More intense and frequent climatic events have already affected Myanmar: In the central areas of the country, temperatures are increasing and droughts are becoming more prevalent, while the coastal zone remains at constant risk of intensifying cyclones. Extreme flooding in the wet season has seen over 1.6 million people seeking emergency shelter, with the damage to homes, schools and farms compounding the impact of last year’s floods, and those from the year before.
Gaihahita’s founder, Saw Thar Zin Oo, said: “There is little doubt that we face environmental challenges on a scale we have not seen before and that solving those challenges will require the youth to develop new ways of thinking and behaving on an everyday basis.”
It’s so important to get them interested and engaged in environmental issues early on in their lives. This is especially true for those who live in communities that are on the frontlines of climate change.
Gaihahita staff are teaching 2,000 children from Yangon about environmental issues and mitigation measure through 12 original songs made by Saw himself. Gaihahita explains that teaching through song provides children with an enjoyable and creative way of learning about the environment and breaks down complex issues into easy, fun, positive and actionable concepts that can be used in any setting.
Gaihahita provided facilitation training to 12 voluntary youth from the local university, to prepare them before they work with children. Through this model, both the children and youth obtain insights into the environmental challenges that Myanmar faces and thereby change their daily habits to mitigate a further escalation of the climate change.
The three-day training covered basic teaching techniques, creative approaches to learning and environmentally friendly behaviours such as recycling, limiting food waste and saving water. At the end of the training, the youth prepared a one-hour group presentation, among which was a hand-puppet show focused on water use and dances about the prevention of single use plastic. During the next six months, the 10 youth will provide a total of 70 trainings reaching 2,000 children.
When asked why the young people had chosen to participate at the training they all agreed that it was time to act for the planet and that it is crucial that the children of Yangon grew up with a different perspective on the environment than their parents.
Acting for the future
Projects like this are at the core of ACTED Myanmar’s 3Zero (Zero carbon, Zero poverty and Zero exclusion) platform where local organisations such as Gaihahita are encouraged to develop innovative and inclusive ways of tackling environmental, educational and labour rights issues within the Myanmar context.
Since 2019 ACTED has facilitated monthly working group meetings for 24 local organisations, with a focus on knowledge sharing and new ways of working. As a part of this approach ACTED awarded Gaihahita with a grant and tailored capacity building within organisational management, to implement the environment education project. ACTED and the working group members aim to support Myanmar in achieving UN’s Sustainable Development Goals through awareness-raising and advocacy campaigns. ACTED hopes to engage more local organisations in 2020 to increase the voices of the population and ensure long-term change is implemented throughout the country.