A family under the same roof
One fine summer day. A thirteen-year-old girl is preparing to cook a curry for her younger siblings and parents as a daily routine. Her thoughts are like the smoke from burning firewood made by herself; after floating near the fireplace, it goes outside and into the sky through the bamboo wall.
"My father passed away 12 years ago when I was one. My mother got married again two months after losing my father. We moved to the camp from my native town when I was five years old", Malar Wai recalls her memories. She lives in a displaced camp with her mother, stepfather and five stepsiblings in Rakhine State, situated on the western coast of Myanmar. In the early days of moving to this camp, they faced many challenges since there were no specific tents or shelters yet, so they temporarily stayed in the school building.
The eldest child of a struggling family, Marlar, did not have an opportunity to attend school in both her hometown and the camp. She participated in the religious school her mother enrolled her in. Marlar helped her mother with the housework in her free time and cared for her siblings. Although she had to live under the same roof with her stepfather and siblings, Marlar was enjoyable at home until she was eight.
"I became uncomfortable with my stepfather's behaviour when I was eight. Whenever he drank, he spanked me and even expelled me from home with the words he used to say, "You do not belong here. Get out of my room". He worked as a casual labourer and may be tired of earning money for a big family. I was so sad every time I was told that."
Two years later, with the thoughts of staying away from the family, Malar left home for the first time. She worked as a housemaid for a family nearby the camp and later remembered there was a place she could stay for a while; her Aunt's house.
"While staying at my Aunt's house, my mom found me and tried to bring me back to the family. But I repeatedly ran away three or four times before meeting with Save the Children", Malar continued to explain her experiences.
In 2020, Save the Children implemented the GFFO project in displaced camps in Rakhine State, aiming to improve access the child protection services for girls and boys. Save the Children received a report on Marlar's case and supported her by collaborating with the camp committee members. When Save the Children's case management team found Marlar in her Aunt's house, the staff conducted psychosocial counselling sessions for her before handing her over to the family.
"When they asked me to choose my host family, I decided to live with my grandmother. Before receiving me at home, my grandmother learned about child safeguarding and child protection knowledge from Save the Children. Soon after living with my grandmother, I heard my mother had a TB diagnosis, so I returned to my family to care for my mom and siblings as the eldest child."
Meanwhile, Save the Children resolved the problems between her stepfather and Marlar by arranging weekly family counselling sessions. "The knowledge-sharing sessions helped me to see the disadvantages of running away from home and how to make a decision. And the awareness session helped my parents to change their behaviour and parenting styles positively", said Marlar.
Save the Children provided support to start a small business to solve her family's economy. They sell clothes from village to village, making their life more comfortable than before.
"Now my stepfather and I possess a friendlier relationship; I can live flexibly in the family. For my future, I wish to attend tailoring training. I have an interest in sewing clothes." Marlar ended her conversation with pleasure.