INSIGHT; MyMe Founder Tim Aye-Hardy
Sports Philosophy and the Freedom for Children Foundation have recently teamed up with the Myanmar Mobile Education Project (MyMe). MyMe brings non-formal education to child labourers in Myanmar. By converting school buses into mobile classrooms, over 3,000 children now receive desperately needed education. We have interviewed Tim Aye-Hardy, founder of MyMe, on how it all started and where his project is making a difference.
1. How did MyMe begin and what was the inspiration behind the project?
The idea of providing non-formal education to child labourers via mobile classroom buses was sparked when I returned to Myanmar after spending 25 years in the U.S. I saw many children working pretty much everywhere in crowded cities, especially at local teashops and road-side restaurants, during my trips, and learned more about their incomprehensible and neglected lives. I shared my experience with a few close friends when I returned to New York and we started to develop the myME Project (www.myMEproject.org/background).
2. Myanmar, as many countries in South East Asia, has an issue with child labour. From your experience, what drives children into child labour? What factors contribute to this issue?
Severe poverty is one of the main causes of child labour in Myanmar, of course limited access to alternative and vocational education along with the dysfunctional formal education system are not helping this critical issue. Currently, over 500,000 students dropping out or disappearing from formal education system each year, primary drop-out rate is about 40%, secondary drop-out rate is around 60% and only 30% of the high school students graduated each year. Parents taking their children out of school at young age to help out at their farms, work, and send them over to nearby cities to find jobs to sustain the families back in rural villages.
3. What differentiates MyMe from other projects trying to tackle child labour?
MyME’s approach is inclusive and practical where we create win-win situation for everyone involved in this deeply rooted and culturally accepted issue in Myanmar. Poverty and lack of access to quality education are two major causes of child labor issue in Myanmar, it’ll take years to solve both causes since Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia and just barely came out of decades of military rules. Providing practical and quality education and vocation skills to child labourers at their work place in collaboration with the teashop and business owners is the very first step in alleviation of child labour in this country.
4. Why do you focus on child labourers in tea shops? Are you planning to expand to other industries?
Most child labourers can be found in informal sectors and workplaces, such as teashops, road-side restaurants, construction sites, and etc…also, teashops are the heart of Myanmar culture and lifestyle that there are 25,000 teashops located all around the country and they are much more visible than other industries, and children can be found at almost every teashop.
5. Critics may argue that your project does not solve the issue of child labour as it keeps children in tea shops? How would you address these critics?
Unfortunately, child labour issue is widespread and deeply rooted in our culture, and there are millions of children working in Myanmar. One project alone cannot solve this pervasive issue. Also, Myanmar is just coming out of over 5 decades of brutal military rule, and is also one of the poorest counties in South East Asia. It’ll take years to completely eliminate child labourers in Myanmar since there are not enough capacity and resources in the government to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, myME manages to bring them out of their currently unhealthy and sometimes inhumane working conditions by providing functional literacy and vocational skills along with basic computer skills to get better job, which leads to better livelihood for the children and their family. Meanwhile, myME project highlights this critical issue and provides hope and practical step towards alleviating the issue gradually…
6. Child labour does not have an instant fix, what progress have you seen so far from your projects? And how do you measure your social impact?
Over 10,000 child labourers graduated from our program in various levels since we started the project back in 2014. Some of them completed vocational training, particularly in hospitality skills, and got better jobs and moved out of the teashops. We monitor and evaluate student attendance, assessment (academic and behavior) outcomes, and both scheduled and unscheduled observations at each class for each student, and improve the program and needs accordingly.
7. What is MyMe's goal for 2018? And how can others help with the charity or in their daily lives?
Our ultimate goal is to provide quality education to every child labourer in Myanmar. Meanwhile, we plan to enroll 500 new child laborers in 2018 to our non-formal and vocational program where these children will gain functional literacy and numeracy, basic computer and vocational skills. Anyone can donate and sponsor child laborer; total cost for providing education is $12.00/month, and generous donors can decide how many students they wish to provide and for how long according to their wish.
Join us at the Winter Wellness Charity event in support of this amazing project - tickets HERE!