In Myanmar, many children – in rural areas especially – drop out of school and migrate to cities to find jobs to support their families. Many of these child labourers can be found in the country’s abundant tea shops, small street-side shops that sell drinks and snacks.

In 2014, Burmese human rights activist Tim Aye-Hardy launched the country’s first project to provide non-formal education to these children. The Myanmar Mobile Education (myME) initiative converts old school buses into mobile classrooms that travel to tea shops in Yangon, Mandalay, and Kyauk-Se. The buses carry local teachers, volunteers, and learning supplies, including tablets.

The project aims to provide the children with basic literacy, numeracy, vocational and computer skills. It also helps them gain self-confidence and encourages them to think about alternative work opportunities in the future.

Students are also encouraged to be creative, with programmes on photography and art, and volunteers brought in from around the world to teach them about life in other countries.

In four years, it has reached more than 10,000 children. With growing participation, the buses have become insufficient, and some tea shops are now converted into classrooms after work hours.

Although Myanmar’s law states that no child under 14 is permitted to work, many children – some as young as five years old – are still illegally hired to serve at its multitude of tea shops. According to the Labour Force Survey in 2015, there are 1.13 million child labourers across the country – a startling 9.3% of the total child population in Myanmar. They clock an average of 52 hours of work per week.

Children taking part in the myME project spend at least two hours a day, every other day, learning. The network of refurbished buses now serves 53 tea shops across the three cities, and runs 10-12 classes everyday of the week.

Image by myME