“Girls have the right to be taught,” says Sompop Jantraka, founder of the Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities Center in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (DEPDC), northern Thailand, one of the two laureates of the 2017 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education.
Funded by the government of China, the Prize supports outstanding work to advance girls’ and women’s education globally by awarding USD 50,000 annually to each recipient.
Prevention through education
In northern Thailand, the Golden Triangle is an area sharing the borders with Laos and Shan State connected to Myanmar where many stateless people are struggling for survival. “We cannot wait until a country becomes safe,” says Sompop. Hundreds of thousands of young children, girls more than boys, are not in school. Many start work as young as 10 years old.
“Prevention has good value because you can bring a big change to the lives of girls,” explains Sompop. The DEPDC is founded on prevention and provides stateless children, in particular girls, with safety and access to education. “We are a boarding school. We have buildings. We have a house, class, playground.” Through this effort, families understood that sending their children to work at a young age is not the answer. Sompop found that many girls supported by DEPDC have gone on to become teachers or village leaders.
Flexible learning, survival education
Given the situation facing stateless children in the area, DEPDC has established flexible teaching methods that can more effectively help children obtain life skills. Based on the Flexible Learning Strategies for Out of School Children and Youth developed by UNESCO Bangkok, the DEPDC provides various forms of non-formal education and vocational training adapted to children’s background and needs. On top of teaching reading, writing, mathematics and science, “the curriculum is focused on safety, how to save your life, how to identify at-risk situations, how to live your life in a very hard situation. It’s survival education.”
The project is also providing counselling as well as rehabilitation programmes. Sompop explains that “[stateless] children need more than education, they need care, love and support.”
Expanding across borders
Collaborating with the government and national authorities is crucial for the work of the DEPDC. The Centre works with national authorities and immigration officers to ensure children can come into the State and attend school. It has also developed partnerships with domestic and international organizations.
Winning the Prize will help the DEPDC be recognized for their work and offer a platform to discuss sensitive issues. Many children on the other side of the border work on the streets or cross to find a job each day. The Prize will support the expansion of the project to reach these children and facilitate the adaptation of the project to other communities, and across the border.
Sompop initiated this project rescuing and rehabilitating 19 underage girls at-risk of sexual exploitation. Today, more than 7,000 girls along the borders of Thailand have enrolled in the Center, the Half Day School and the Youth Leadership Training Programme and over 100,000 children and women have indirectly benefited from the Center’s programmes and training activities. Almost all children and youth (90%) involved in the project have built strong life and social skills, and are protected from all forms of exploitation. The DEPDC is also raising awareness globally by hosting 10 groups of international students with backgrounds in social development, law, and psychology who contribute to this project as volunteers.
Sompop firmly believes that “if more and more people recognize the importance of education and the equal rights of girls, the next generation can benefit more equally from social and economic development.”
The Development and Education Programme for Daughters and Communities Center in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (DEPDC) is recognized for its project entitled “Education and Life Skills Training Programme to Help Stateless Children and Women Migrating from Shan State to Thailand”. The innovative project uses education and life skills training to protect stateless and migrant girls and women from the risks of human trafficking and sexual or labour exploitation. It also works on the rehabilitation of girls and women who have fallen prey to these abuses.