The Chin Hills in Myanmar

The Chin Hills cover most of the Chin State, one of seven ethnic minority states of Myanmar. Located in the West of the country, bordering India, The Chin Hills are a mountain range and hence difficult to access, particularly during the rainy season. The capital of the region, Hakha, is 2,000m above sea level.

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AN OVERVIEW OF THE CHIN HILLS

Burmese Mountains in The Chin Hills, Scenery, clouds, Myanmar
Burmese Mountains in The Chin Hills ©ChildrenOfTheMekong

The Chin Hills are mostly inhabited by the Chin people, but in reality, lots of other minorities are found there since at least 53 dialects have been counted in the region. Despite the proximity to India and, therefore, the increasing development of Burmese-Indian exchanges, this isolated region, long abandoned by the previous Burmese military government, is still marked by an endemic poverty, high food prices and a lack of natural resources. The population has held onto its traditional tribal lifestyle. Thus, large families (it is common to have ten children per family) live off forest clearing, livestock farming, hunting and harvesting.  

The poorest, who don’t own their own land, take it in turns to farm the collective land of the village. The growing of maize, an easier crop, replaces that of rice. Rice which is still a staple food has to be imported from the plains and the cost of transport considerably increasing its price. Consequently, malnutrition is a chronic problem. The majority of families as well as children in boarding houses only eat two meals a day.  

The lack of medical infrastructures and therefore a lack of hygiene, as well as the difficult access to electricity too dependent on villages geographical location and the lack of access to education and shortages of jobs have forced Children Of The Mekong into making The Chin Hills a priority zone for development.  

ACTION FOR MINORITIES IN MYANMAR

Our association has been on the ground, in the North around Hakha and Kalay and in the South around Mindat since 2012. This has coincided with the start of a democratic transition of the country under the authority of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, The National League for Democracy. The opening of the Chin Hills Zone in 2014 has allowed us to get to the centre of a region that was once difficult to access. It has also permitted us to discover both the immense needs of the region and a network of extremely motivated representatives who want to help development in their community.  

It is here that Children of the Mekong embark on their sponsorship programs and projects with an educational focus, meanwhile other NGOs (few in number) on the ground focus on local agricultural projects. The work of Children of the Mekong is facilitated by the well-established network of local representatives who are trusted by the organisation to coordinate its activities and by the relationship we have built with the Karuna Mission Social Solidarity (KMSS) in Kalay and Hakha.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the long lasting positive impression left on the local populations by our French Overseas Missions has remarkably helped the action of our volunteers. It has also reinforced the rightfulness of their presence in the honoured partnership in development in the Chin Hills.

Group of children from the Chin Hills, Myanmar, Burma, Smiling, happy
A group of children in the Chin Hills ©ChildrenOfTheMekong

DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS IN THE CHIN HILLS

Girl studying in her boarding house in the Chin Hills

At this stage of development, the role of our volunteers is crucial to identifying specific issues in the region and listing the priorities, working closely with local representatives. The primary issue is the problem of food supplies. Then comes the issue of construction of boarding houses which are of good quality. Finally, comes the issues of extra classes and balancing out the insufficiency of the country’s education system – wherein students require additional classes in order to succeed in their studies.

This work has allowed us to work jointly with local volunteers and devise a 3 year development plan. In concrete terms, that means prioritising the renovation and reconstruction of the boarding house in the most remote area as well as smaller improvements for daily living (financing toilets, buying bedding and mosquito nets, financing solar panels to allow studying at night). At the same time, collective sponsorships cover the costs of a 3rd meal for the young people in the boarding school, pay for hygiene products and even for a young person who has graduated to supervise the younger children.

The second priority concerns individual sponsorship in the programs. This type of sponsorship allows a sponsor to follow an individual child and pay for their boarding and extra lessons so that children have every chance at the end of secondary school to pass their final exam (Matriculation Exam). Furthermore, Children of the Mekong hope to encourage certain young people who pass this exam to train as teachers or instructors and to return to the boarding houses to improve the level of teaching and supervision.  

After the bleak years of the Military Junta, Myanmar has come to see a democratic transition since 2012. The country, however, remains fragile, victim to civil conflicts and humanitarian disasters. Indeed, when we talk of Myanmar, we often speak of Ethnic States where ethnic, religious and political ideals can overlap or clash head-on.

The most vulnerable people, especially those in the Chin Hills, should therefore be supported. This is why our humanitarian association’s action, notably our presence on the ground has only been fairly recent, and is determined to support the poorest. Always guided and anchored by our founding ideology,

we hope that the children we help today will help save their country tomorrow.

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