At least 500 million people globally lack access to the facilities they need to manage their periods. Where menstrual products aren’t readily available, many resort to using makeshift items, such as old cloth material, instead of sanitary products, which in turn, risks infections and other health problems.
“When girls and women do not have access to sanitary pads, this makes them uncomfortable in working, studying and everywhere they go. They feel worried, fearful, ashamed and not brave. These problems affect their school enrolment and dropout” shares Ol Senghun, UWS’ Adolescent Girls’ Lead in Cambodia.
Many girls are forced to miss days of school when they have their period or even drop out of school altogether - losing out on their right to an education. Myths, stigma and harmful cultural or social norms around menstruation exacerbate the difficulties for young people. Menstruation is a stigmatised and taboo topic, girls may also face discriminatory practices whilst on their periods, such as not being allowed to participate in religious practices.
UWS ensures all children are safe, included and learning. Through our WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities and safeguarding measures (for which we have been accredited by Keeping Children Safe), we ensure the school environment is safe for girls and considers their needs. But this isn’t enough. We’ve found that girls are often unprepared when they start their period, having received little or no education about menstruation before reaching puberty.
Therefore, our Girls’ Clubs and Mothers’ Groups across Cambodia and Nepal recently held pad-making training sessions, teaching girls and their mothers how to make reusable sanitary pads. The girls and mothers learnt about the reproductive system, puberty, menstruation and how to manage periods safely. Sanitary kits were provided to each attendee, containing reusable pad-making materials, a menstrual hygiene management booklet, and a bag to store their pads throughout the day.
The sessions also provide a safe space for women and girls to learn about their rights, voice concerns and build confidence and knowledge on their bodies and rights. Hourt Veasna, a UWS Education Officer in Cambodia, delivered the training to over 200 women and girls across 10 UWS schools in Siem Pang District.
“The training on menstrual education and puberty helped mothers and girls understand more about the menstrual cycle, their health, the age of menstruation and menopause,” explains Veasna. “The sessions prepared them for how they may feel during their cycle, and to help reduce their fear and shame to talk about menstruation”.
“We have received very good feedback from the mothers and girls,” Senghun adds. “Girls now understand about puberty and are ready for the body changes they will experience. We have seen that students are now attending school regularly because they have enough products and spend less money on buying sanitary pads”.
“I was able to understand the negative perception regarding menstrual hygiene after becoming a member of the Girls’ Club. I also learned to make reusable sanitary pads through this club,” says Seema (name changed), a Girls’ Club member from UWS Changlewa in Nepal.
The sessions, which have taken place across more than 120 UWS schools in Cambodia and Nepal, also aimed to empower girls and mothers to challenge the social norms and stigma associated with menstruation and to talk about periods in a shame-free way.
“After being involved in Girls’ Club, I have been able to be fearless and put my opinion among others. I have also been able to talk about my issues related to menstrual hygiene and help others share their problems as well.” shares Reena (name changed), a student of UWS Sathtare School in Nepal. The pad-making training sessions have received recognition from the members of mothers’ groups and local communities.
“The pad-making training was very effective. I have been using the pad myself, which is better than the household pad I used to use. I learned more about menstrual hygiene and the importance of a balanced diet during menstruation,” says Mala (name changed), a mothers’ group member at UWS Jaisithok.
Empowering people to feel confident throughout their period by providing safe products and effective menstrual hygiene education, as well as educating communities, is critical to ensuring that all students have equal access to education and opportunities.
The above initiatives are part of our Dropout Prevention Programme, in partnership with Education Above All Foundation’s Educate A Child (EAC) programme. The Dropout Prevention Programme aims to support the children most at-risk of education marginalisation and early dropout, to stay in school. Read more here.
The Difference our Programme Will Make
At United World Schools, we're proud to have championed inclusive education from our very beginnings. Our teams work exceptionally hard to ensure that every girl and boy living in some of the world's hardest-to-reach communities is able to access the quality education that is their right.
Our Girls Will Be Girls programme, which starts in Spring 2023, forms a crucial component of furthering our inclusive education agenda.
All donations that were made as part of this appeal will help girls across Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal and Madagascar tear down barriers to education and attend school with their heads held high. The matched income from the UK government will go directly to funding our girls' education programme in Cambodia and Nepal, helping girls to get an education, stay in school and achieve their potential.
Asha lives in a remote village in the Himalayas of Nepal, where she attends UWS Hedangnagadi School. But not long ago, Asha was one of the millions of children globally who drop out of school before completing primary education. She'd been forced to drop out of boarding school as her family couldn't afford the fees. When this happened, Asha and her parents were devastated, they were determined that Asha would continue her education and so looked for alternatives. UWS Hedangnagadi School provided the solution. At United World Schools, we believe that every child should have access to a free, quality education.
Through our Girls Will Be Girls programme, we aim to work with 20,000+ people over a three-year period to increase girls’ presence, participation and achievement in school.
Our innovative programme has four key areas:
1. Targeted support for out-of-school and at-risk girls:
Through our Girls Will Be Girls programme, we aim to work with 20,000+ people over a three-year period to increase girls’ presence, participation and achievement in school.
2. Gender-responsive households and communities:
We’ll support girls and families to challenge harmful gender norms, for example, where women are expected to by wives, housekeepers and reproducers. We will tackle this through community workshops in over 100 communities. By establishing girls’ clubs, we’ll create safe spaces for girls in school to talk about the issues they face and discuss solutions. We’ll carry out education and training sessions for girls to increase awareness of their bodies and rights.
3. Gender-responsive schools:
Harmful social and cultural norms are often reflected in schools. Through this programme we’ll train Education Officers to deliver training to teachers to build gender inclusive schools that challenge inequalities in the classroom. We’ll audit our WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) facilities and make upgrades to ensure the school environment is safe for girls and considers their specific needs.
4. Gender-responsive education systems:
To influence systemic level change, UWS will engage with government officials and education sector stakeholders on improving gender responsive approaches, gender inclusive teaching practices and school environments. We’ll raise awareness of harmful gender norms and increase support for girls’ education. We’ll facilitate meetings between local authorities and community representatives to amplify beneficiary voices.
Thanks to your support
We will address the structural barriers that prevent girls from participating fully in education. Together, we will create systemic change for girls living in rural areas. We look forward to keeping you updated on the impact of our Girls Will Be Girls programme.
Usually this is due to differing gender-based cultural norms and expectations, such as child marriage and the social stigma surrounding menstruation. In Ratanakiri province, Cambodia, where UWS operates, nearly 60% of girls are married before they are 18 years old (Action Plan to Prevent & Respond to VAC 2017). Long walks to and from school also present additional safety concerns for girls due to the threat of gender-based violence.
Inclusive education is central to our education model. From the outset, we work in partnership with communities who commit to sending both girls and boys to school. Through our WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities and safeguarding measures (for which we have been accredited by Keeping Children Safe), we ensure the school environment is safe for girls and considers their needs. We hire and train community teachers who teach children in a language they understand (initially the local language) and use positive, child-centred teaching methods. For us, education is about every child feeling supported by their teachers and parents, safe in the classroom, and having the opportunity to pursue the futures they choose.
This is why we are proud to be working in partnership with Educate A Child (EAC), a global programme of the Education Above All Foundation, to deliver a Dropout Prevention Programme and further our inclusive education agenda. Our three-year Dropout Prevention Programme will support the children most at-risk of education marginalisation and early dropout, to stay in school. Addressing the barriers to learning faced by girls is a crucial part of this programme.
As part of this programme, we have established Girls’ Clubs to support girls on relevant issues and also to serve as support mechanisms for the girls at-risk of early school dropout. The clubs aim to increase girls’ resilience, as well as awareness and knowledge of how to exercise their rights.
United World Schools works with some of the world’s most remote and marginalised communities to provide every child with a quality, inclusive education. We work with rural communities, who are often ethnic minorities, relying on subsistence farming with little to no educational infrastructure. Within the communities we serve, there are subgroups of children who are more vulnerable to educational exclusion and early dropout due to key demographic risk factors. These include living in extreme poverty, the challenges facing girls aged 11+, discrimination, students being overage for their grade, and having a difficult journey to school.
The risk of school dropout has only been exacerbated by Covid-19. Prolonged school closures have heightened the risk of child labour and child marriage, widened equity gaps, and eroded cultures of learning. Girls have been disproportionately affected, UNESCO warns that more than 11 million girls are at risk of dropping out and may never return to school. This not only threatens decades of progress made towards gender equality, but also places girls at greater risk of adolescent pregnancy and child marriage.
We are committed to ensure all children are safe, included and learning. In partnership with EAC, our three-year Dropout Prevention Programme will identify the United World Schools students who are most likely to drop out and provide targeted support to enable these children to stay in school.
In support of this, we have formed locally-established School Retention Teams (SRTs) in each UWS school in Nepal and Cambodia. SRTs are composed of teachers, community volunteers and UWS Education Officers, and over the course of the last months, they have undergone Dropout Prevention training sessions.
Amrit is a UWS Education Officer in Sankhuwasabha, Nepal. Through spending time living with the communities he works with, he has become acutely aware of the many barriers that children face to gain a quality education.
“I work with students from families who cannot afford simple stationery like pencils, erasers and sharpeners”, says Amrit. “Some students have to walk for more than two hours to reach a school, across flowing rivers and slopes at-risk of catastrophic landslides. Coming from families without a history of education, students often lack the guidance to complete their academic work at home”.
SRTs will use five key risk factors to identify the UWS students who are most likely to drop out, and then deliver a holistic package of interventions to enable them to stay in school. These interventions include, among others, providing school supplies, assistance with children’s journey to school, establishing mothers’ groups and girls’ clubs, delivering holiday and evening classes (as pictured below), and providing sanitary kits and menstrual education for adolescent girls.
“I am happy that United World Schools is partnering with EAC to bring the Dropout Prevention Programme to UWS schools”
“I strongly believe that this project will not only be crucial to retaining students who are at risk of dropout, but also to bring back and inspire students who have previously dropped out”.
United World Schools will continue to support the most marginalised children to claim their right to an inclusive education and provide them with the tools to shape their own futures, on their own terms. The goal of this programme is to increase the retention of over 5,000 high risk and most at risk children in primary education across Nepal and Cambodia.
We are proud to be launching our Dropout Prevention Programme in partnership with Educate A Child. Over the course of this project, we will be sharing more information about the progress of interventions and the experiences of our teachers and students across the communities we support.
You will hear from Ramila Singh; Senior Finance Officer for UWS Nepal, Chenda Mony; Education Officer for UWS Cambodia, Sovy Thann; UWKindergarten Officer for UWS Cambodia, and female staff members from UWS Myanmar, whose identities have been protected due to the ongoing political situation in Myanmar.
Here are the voices of just some of the women that choose to challenge gender inequality every day through their work at United World Schools. Thank you to every single teacher, education officer, community member, staff member and volunteer who champions female education and gender equality every day across United World Schools and beyond.
WHICH FEMALE ROLE MODELS INSPIRED YOU, OR CONTINUE TO INSPIRE YOU TO WORK FOR GENDER EQUALITY?
I was very lucky to be born in a family where the leading role was played by my mom because my father used to be mostly out stationed due to work. During this phase my mom used to always inspire me to develop myself and think about how I can contribute to the community in future. This is the reason I became a big believer of saying, “If you want to Make a Change, Be the Change”.
- Ramila Singh, UWS Nepal
HOW HAVE YOU OVERCOME OBSTACLES IN YOUR LIFE TO INSPIRE OTHERS?
Chenda Mony, UWS Cambodia: In my school age, I went against my family and people in the village to continue going to school till I finished high school; then I continued to university at which I supported myself by having a job while still at university. This experience is what I use to inspire other women and younger females, to remind them that we have the right to achieve and set any goal we want in life, that we can decide when and who to marry, and then we also have the right to do business or work to bring another source of income in the family.
Sovy Thann, UWS Cambodia:
When I first started working, I had faced many discrimination for my work and my voice was not seriously considered and valued. Despite this challenge, I continue to encourage myself to keep working hard. Today, I feel better because this challenge is fading away, because the system has changed. We have a wider education campaign that promotes women’s rights and gender equality across the country. In addition, there are more women in leadership roles in the government and NGOs sectors.
UWS Myanmar: From my experience, having role models at national and local levels have been identified to encourage the colleagues, friends, families, and broader communities to ensure equal participation for women and men, girls and boys in the community. The social benefits of gender equality should be explored and celebrated. Women’s participation in the decision making from family level to community level make the men reduce the burden, and help improve wellbeing for the children.
WHAT DRIVES YOU TO CHAMPION GENDER EQUALITY WITH UNITED WORLD SCHOOLS?
Ramila Singh, UWS Nepal: When you see the education scenario in Nepal it is very regressive this is why I was inspired to join UWS Nepal as this is dedicated to educating children especially girls. Once I started working in UWS I felt blessed to be working in an organization that truly practices the concept of women empowerment as well as hears what the employees say and value their feedback and contributions.
Although I am blessed to have such a wonderful team, it’s very sad that I cannot say the same for other working women in Nepal. If you see in the context of Nepal, High Girl Illiteracy Level and Women Workplace Inequality are the major issues in Community today so to help in solving these issues I have also been involved voluntarily with other NGOs that practice Women Empowerment and Community Development.
Chenda Mony, UWS Cambodia: The factor that inspires me to drive social change and support organisations like UWS is that I see the importance and value of education that UWS has brought to the communities so far. I think empowering women is very important because we are training to increase human resources in every generation to change perspectives. Since I started working for UWS, I see that most of UWS work is also focusing on women and girls, that is when I feel even more committed to work in the education sector.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT WOMEN AND GIRLS ARE FACING IN YOUR COMMUNITY TODAY?
Sovy Thann, UWS Cambodia:
Younger girls are facing a big challenge nowadays due to their family economic situation. In the past, most families did their farming close to the villages. But now these farms are sold to the outsiders, thus they have gone to clear the forest that is really far away from the village. Often, families would spend their time there. This is a challenge for young girls to come to school from the farm because it is relatively unsafe to be on the road.
UWS Myanmar: There are still widespread beliefs across the country and among different religious and ethnic groups. And the cultural norm acts as a barrier to the realization of women’s rights.
Cultural norms impact heavily on women’s opportunities for health, education and ownership of property. Such norms include: women’s menstruation is dirty; women are for reproductive work, housework and care to children; encourage women to sacrifice themselves for their families; and position women as inferior to men in the household. In ethnic culture (i.e Chin ethnic), women are not allowed to inherit all their parent property even if she is the only one child in the family. One of her father’s brothers would inherit the major property. Furthermore, according to the marriage cultural norm to maintain life-long marriage, women are held to endure the violence of the husband.
United World Schools is wholeheartedly committed to challenging gender inequality in every facet of our work, and the passion and commitment of our female colleagues and community members is essential to achieving our mission. To find out more about how we champion gender equality in the communities we work in, and across our organisation, read our inclusion policy.
If there is one overriding feature that has driven UWS’ success in the last ten years it is an unwavering, complete and utter belief in the mission; and linking up with partners and colleagues who share total commitment to the power of education to transform lives. Reflecting recently with a number of our donors, the belief in the UWS mission is universal, and perhaps the biggest driver of our success.
2. KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND WHY YOU ARE HERE.
Ever since the first UWS Community School in the remote village of Kong Nork, Cambodia was established in 2009, we’ve been clear on what we are trying to do. We’ve been prepared to innovate of course, but rarely strayed too far away from our core purpose and focus. We’ve kept it simple. As we’ve grown, we’ve also learnt the importance of saying ‘no’ to well-intended suggestions that ultimately distract the organisation from its core purpose. On reflection, we should have had the confidence to, politely, say ‘no’ earlier in our journey – this is all part of the learning experience.
3. GOALS: MAKE THEM AUDACIOUS, BIG AND BOLD.
When we launched our ‘transforming 50,000 lives’ campaign in 2014, the ambition and scale captured attention – and we successfully gained the investment and gathered momentum as a result. People either thought we were bonkers, or that we had a great idea… and wanted to work out which one it was! Fortunately, they concluded it was the latter, and we had £1m of unrestricted funding pledged to develop the organisation. We’ve never looked back.
4. CONNECT AND INVEST IN PEOPLE.
Perhaps the organisation’s biggest strength are the partnerships that have been formed, based on mutually beneficial, trusted relationships. At our best, we’ve made it more than a great cause – we’ve made people part of a family. Where we’ve stumbled, failing to properly invest in the right people, in the right way, has almost always been part of the root cause.
5. PUNCH ABOVE YOUR WEIGHT.
We’ve often acted bigger than we are (and then grown into the space created). A good example is when we secured our first major, multi-million dollar grant from one of our partners in 2016. We were tiny in comparison to many of their other partners, but we had the appetite to grow and develop. This grant was a game changer for us, and we have subsequently become a peer organisation to the very best in our sector.
6. THINK LIKE A SYSTEM, AND ACT LIKE AN ENTREPRENEUR.
Bold, audacious plans for growth and scale were essential for UWS’ success… but meaningless without a plan to deliver them. At our best, we’ve planned in a very business-like and systematic manner; when we’ve moved to action, we’ve changed leadership ‘gear’ and intentionally executed the plan as entrepreneurs – being dynamic, problem-solving and rapidly adapting to change. By doing so, we’ve scaled with ‘glocal’ behaviours: an organisation that seeks to balance appropriate country autonomy with global consistency. Our CV19 response – as well as keeping education going through temporary school closures in 2020/21, and reopening successfully recently – is perhaps one of the best examples of this.
7. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS.
A budget isn’t just a budget, it’s a plan. It costs just over a dollar per week to educate a child in a UWS Community School – this represents a terrific value and is very compelling for philanthropists. We’ve played to our strength here over the years, not just with financial transparency (which is essential), but also with clear financials giving confidence in who is running the organisation. And we’ve encouraged internal colleagues to deeply engage with our numbers – and therefore own our cost-conscious, high-impact plans.
8. TALK IT UP.
We can all choose our attitude. We’ve chosen positivity. UWS operate in difficult places – positivity has been essential to keep enthusiasm, a can-do approach and optimism. Positivity has also been infectious, motivating teams, building and sustaining organisation momentum.
9. DO SOMETHING SLIGHTLY BETTER EACH DAY.
We’ve had the opportunity to engage with some extraordinarily brilliant people on our journey. The opportunities to listen and learn have been significant, and every day as CEO, I’ve aimed to improve something. This has also empowered stakeholders around the world to continue to lean in - feeling part of the journey, and able to contribute to it.
10 MAKE SOMEONE’S DAY.
We’re in the people business. It’s a challenging and complicated business – and also deeply rewarding. Yet in our relentless pursuit of the ‘next’ goal or objectives, we perhaps haven’t always taken the time to celebrate and recognise success on route. The learning? Taking an opportunity to make someone’s day today, sets up even more success tomorrow.
“I live in Heluwabesi with my aunt and uncle. I have no idea where my mother has gone. I don’t even remember her. According to my Auntie Bhim, she left my father and went for another man, when I was just a little girl. After that, my father took me to a person in the village and asked them to look after me as he was unable to do so on his own.
One day, Auntie Bhim came to get me. At first, I didn’t want to go as I had gotten used to living with my foster family, but she said she will look after me like her own daughter. I still resisted, but she insisted and so, I went to live with her, my uncle and my little ‘sister’. My aunt helped me and bought me new clothes.''
Preeti's aunt Bhim never had the chance to go to school. She's determined that Preeti has the opportunity to learn, and follow her dreams.
This International Day of the Girl, help girls like Preeti to get the education that every child deserves. Donate today, and your gift will help us provide education to remote and marginalised communities, to help girls like Preeti break the cycle of poverty, and have the chance to achieve their dreams.
CHIMINI'S PENCIL CASE
Chimini, 10, keeps her pencil cases hidden away in a room in her grandparent's shop in Mabir, Nepal.
"My grandmother helps me to learn how to read and write, but I wish to go to school so I can learn even more" - Chimini
"I want to understand everything, and I want to learn to write my name." - Chimini
KANCHI'S PENCIL CASE
Kanchi (10) showed us the inside of her much-loved pencil case in Helabuwesi, Nepal.
Kanchi wrote this short story about a very wise fish who escaped a fisherman's net.
Kanchi gets ready for another day at UWS Helabuwesi School, Nepal.
AMIR'S PENCIL CASE
Amir (6) keeps his pencil case safely in his school bag hanging on his bedroom wall.
Amir packs his school bag for the day at UWS Majjuwa School, Nepal.
Before lockdown, Amir walked 180 minutes to school and back every day just to learn to read and write.
PREETI'S PENCIL CASE
Preeti (10) shows us her pencil case which was open on her bed as she finished her homework.
Preeti combs her hair to get ready for the day at UWS Helabuwesi School.
"I like the school environment and enjoy studying. I feel glad when our teachers let us play – I love to skip." - Preeti
We have to keep working to provide children from marginalised areas like Chimini, Kanchi, Amir and Preeti with the chance to read, write and learn.
HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC IMPACTED THE CHILDREN UWS SUPPORTS?
It’s important to acknowledge that all children have been affected by the pandemic. When we look at the affects on children in the UK, we see that the pandemic has had a profound impact on their wellbeing. A 2020 YouGov poll conducted on behalf of Barnado’s found that a third of the UK’s children are experiencing mental health difficulties due to lockdown.
But as with many crises, the most vulnerable around the world have been hit even harder by the effects of the pandemic. In many of the communities we work in, our schools are their first introduction to education. We’ve worked so hard alongside community leaders to make education a priority, and COVID-19 threatens to undermine that progress.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THAT EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS WAS REVERSED?
The UN has estimated that an additional 24 million children might not go back to school after the pandemic - that’s on top of the hundreds of millions of children who already don’t attend school. When children aren’t in education, they’re far more at risk of being taken advantage of, they have fewer life opportunities and even worse health outcomes. You can read more about that here.
The alternatives to education - like child labour and child marriage - are diametrically opposed to what a childhood should be. What’s lost when children don’t go back to school is not just education but also a childhood. It’s a long-term loss as well; loss in brain development, in self-esteem, in opportunities for the future. Since schools are closed in every country we work in at the moment, the risk to children is growing every day.
HOW CAN CREATIVITY AND PLAYING HELP CHILDREN GET BACK TO SCHOOL?
To get children back to school, we need to tackle inattendance on three fronts. Firstly, we need to re-build communities’ commitment to education, which we’re doing through in-country ‘back to school’ awareness campaigns. Secondly, we need to support parents and encourage them to send their children back to school, and our teachers and Education Officers like Mr Hy Sombo are hard at work doing just that.
Lastly - but certainly not least - we need to empower the children themselves to become their own biggest advocates. We do that by helping them see the benefits of education, but also by making learning fun! In many of the countries where we work, rote learning is the norm - but we incorporate child-centred learning into our classrooms and distance learning. Something as simple as the children making their own masks can be seen as ‘play’.
ONCE CHILDREN ARE BACK IN SCHOOL, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE STRUGGLES THEY FACE?
The restrictions are heart-breaking. Children need to play with each other, to touch each other, to make bonds. Play is needed more than ever, but it’s harder than ever to incorporate it into the classroom.
I don’t know who it’s harder for; the children who’ve never been to school before and are introduced to education in a very strange way, or the children who have been away from school for months due to lockdown and are coming back to a very different school environment which is much less playful and interactive than it was before.
It’s also important to remember that children experience time in a very different way to adults. For primary school aged children, they may not be capable of understanding that these restrictions won’t last forever. I’m worried about retention, and I’m worried about the kids’ wellbeing.
HOW CAN WE HELP IMPROVE CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH?
We need to listen to children, and to promote their self-expression through art and play. The story of our Education Officer Mr Hout Veasna highlights the importance and power of creativity in the classroom.
The LEGO Foundation, one of UWS’ biggest supporters and champions of learning through play, have also developed many resources for educators and primary caregivers to draw upon, such as their free online course, Coping with Changes: Social-Emotional Learning Through Play.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE?
I can’t lie, I’d like to see children get back to tumbling over each other in a playground!
I think one of the positive things to come out of this crisis is that the sector and the world are appreciating schools more now; parents are desperate to get their kids back to school and governments are doing everything they can to re-open schools as quickly as possible. There’s a renewed understanding of the importance of education, and the fact that schools are central to a thriving society.
“If you don't know part of my early history, I emigrated from Burma with my family when I was five. I can only imagine it was a tough decision as we left almost all of our family behind; the many aunts, cousins and both sets of grandparents. But we also left behind a ruling dictatorship which couldn't understand the harsh economic realities of normal people, with little investment in healthcare or education (instead, spending most of their revenue on arming the military). If my father hadn’t made that decision all those years ago my life would be very different.
One of my first Skillshare classes I created was around creative goals and if you have also seen my recent Skillshare class, Transition Into Illustration: Breaking into the Industry, you will know that I am a firm believer in having a vision of how I wanted my illustration career to look like in order to shape it. Way back in 2012 even before I picked up a brush or pen, I created a goals book of how I wanted my ideal life, with a thriving illustration business, including the types of clients I’d attract.
Coming from a disadvantaged background, I knew I wanted to work with charities in order to help others less fortunate than myself. I knew how incredibly lucky and privileged I was to have had access to good healthcare and education as an immigrant to the UK. If I had stayed in Burma I would not have had such opportunities or security. Over the years I have supported many charities to help with sanitation, the fight against malaria, and bringing clean water to remote communities. From my position today I wish for all children to have enough to eat, an education, and their own hopes and goals for the future which is not blighted by poverty.
This July, I am delighted to be teaming up with United World Schools (UWS) to help the world's most remote and marginalised regions to give every child access to free education. They partner with local communities in Myanmar, Nepal and Cambodia, to build, equip and resource primary schools. The charity aims to break the cycle of illiteracy in one generation across Asia, empowering children to realise their full potential and build a better future - for them and their families.
I first met the team from UWS at a charity fundraising event for Burma and I was immediately taken by their commitment to bring education to remote communities including those in Burma. I talked to them about a slip of paper I’d placed in my ‘magic jam jar’ with my wish to work with children's charities.
I’m honoured to join other amazing illustrators such as Axel Scheffler, Jackie Morris, Emily Gravett, Debi Gliori and more to take part in UWS Happily Ever Smarter Secret Sale, by sharing an illustration based on a real life story of one of the incredible children they are working to support, high in the Himalayas in Nepal.
This is the piece I created based on an 11 year old girl called Soneeya (pictured above with her sister, Heena) who wishes she didn't have to carry loads of grass every morning and would love to be at school instead of looking after the cattle all day. She deserves a chance to become a teacher and help her village when she’s older.
For me, or my children or Soneeya, goals even in their simplest form can provide us with a strong motivation that can keep you going for months and years, and can be transformative.”
Thank you to Ohn Mar Win for writing this inspiring blog and illustrating a beautiful piece inspired by Soneeya’s story as part of our Happily Ever Smarter Secret Sale.
Running until 29 July, our Secret Sale offers an exciting opportunity to win an original artwork by one of the UK's most treasured illustrators - and help more children to live ‘Happily Ever Smarter’.