SITTWE, Myanmar – A year after Buddhist mobs forced almost all members of the minority Rohingya Muslim community from this northwestern Myanmar city, creating a state-sanctioned sectarian divide, thousands of children while away their long, empty days in dusty displacement camps.
Because Rohingya children are no longer welcome in many government schools, the so-called Rohingya Village Madrassa on the outskirts of Sittwe has opened its doors to some of those boys and girls, teaching not just Islamic studies, as it did in the past, but Burmese and English.
On some days more than 1,000 kids turn up. Their parents sit in small nearby tea shops where they can hear the steady hum of young voices reading out loud.
Inside the dilapidated building, the children are tightly packed on the well-worn, wooden floor. A teacher patrols the room with a bamboo cane, trying to keep noise levels down.
The madrassa gets almost no outside support. The staff is unpaid. And due to a shortage of textbooks, they struggle to get across even the basics.
“We are doing what we can,” said Anowar, an eighth-grade teacher who handles more than 65 students on his own at one time. “But it’s almost impossible ... especially the older kids.
“We are seeing small improvements, though. Some children now can say their names in Burmese or can count.”
Sittwe is the capital of Rakhine state, which last year was wracked by sectarian violence that has since spread to other parts of the country. Rohingya have been the main victims of the attacks, which have left more than 240 people dead and sent another 240,000 fleeing their homes.