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A centre for abandoned children in Naypyidaw is calling for additional funding as it struggles to cope with a recent increase in admissions.
Home to more than 500 abandoned adolescents, the Youth Development Garden at Thawitthi, Naypyidaw, gives shelter to children aged from zero to early adulthood.
Food costs are a major concern for the centre’s monk leader Baddanta Nyarneinda.
“There are more than 30 babies at breast milk stage. There are more than 540 children in total. We have to cook seven tin [300 litres] of rice everyday. That costs 600,000 kyats [US$460],” said Baddanta Nyarneinda.
“We can only feed them meat or fish once every four or five days. On other days we serve vegetables and different kinds of beans. The children only eat meat when there is a donor,” he explained.
Education expenses also worry Baddanta Nyarneinda.
“There are 36 people attending universities. It costs about 60,000 kyats [US$46] for each person attending university. We also need to pay tuition fees for high school students,” he said.
There are approximately 1.6 million orphans in Burma, but the vast majority have at least one living parent.
Family conflict, persecution and illness account for a portion of abandonment cases, though poverty is behind most according to child welfare organisations including UNICEF.
At the centre in Naypyidaw, children take care of each other.
“The children know they don’t have parents. But they have found many [other children without parents] here, so they are not depressed,” said a centre preschool teacher Hnin Wai Yee.
“We tell them not to get depressed. I am happy to teach them. Sometimes, I cry for them. We are not only their teachers but also their parents,” she added.
The centre runs its own school catering for preschool to middle school levels.
“Education is compulsory for them. That is the only way out for them. For children with learning difficulties, we give them vocational training,” said Baddanta Nyarneinda.
The school has produced 17 university graduates to date, including three engineers. There are 62 students currently completing tertiary studies, including five at the Defence Services Academy and 12 studying nursing.
With Burma a source and transit country for child trafficking, the centre manages its own strict application process.
“In the past we accepted children with the recommendation from local government administrators, now we have our own verification process as we worried that the children not referred to us would be trafficked,” said Baddanta Nyarneinda.
Even with financial pressures, the centre remains open to those in need.
“We accept the children as it is better for them to stay here,” Baddanta Nyarneinda said.