The Geutanyoë Foundation is focused on increasing access to basic services for Rohingya refugee women and girls, especially in health and education.

Its ‘Homeschooling literacy project for Rohingya women and girls’, launched in December 2017, caught the judges’ attention for its highly practical – and imaginative – home education programmes for Rohingya women refugees who are taught by Rohingya women refugees.

The judges said it is innovative in design and implementation while noting its success in ‘empowering’ its beneficiaries.

Geutanyoë Foundation is a non-profit organisation registered in Malaysia and Indonesia working to assist and empower the most vulnerable and marginalised communities, including conflict and disaster-affected communities, internally displaced persons, refugees, stateless persons, victims of trafficking, and people with disabilities. Like its name, Geutanyoë, meaning ‘All of Us’ in Acehnese, is founded on principles of dignity, inclusiveness, equality, and peace for all, and believes that people affected by crisis are the best placed to lead change in their own communities.

Geutanyoë’s work in Malaysia with refugees focuses on increasing access to basic services, especially health and education, developing a cultural platform for refugee artists, and cultivating refugee leadership to assist and advance protection for their communities.

In mid-2016, Geutanyoë established a Refugee Medical Trust Fund to assist refugees with access to emergency and basic health services as well as to support with transport and accompaniment to clinics and hospitals.

In 2017, the Geutanyoë Foundation designed its winning homeschooling literacy for Rohingya women and girls project based on interviews and research conducted by Rohingya refugee staff, who led the consultation and design process.

This approach, according to Geutanyoë Foundation co-founder Lilianne Fan, enabled the beneficiaries “to conduct their everyday activities on their own and thus promote independence. It also included them in the decision-making as they are able to articulate their ideas and convey their concerns, which may better inform aid practices for these women.”

Empowerment plus

The project has three main objectives:

1. Equipping Rohingya women and out-of-school girls – the most deprived of education both in Myanmar’s Rakhine State as well as in Bangladesh – with literacy skills to allow them to maneuver through their everyday life. The project was designed to be delivered in Rohingya homes as distance, fear of arrest and inability to communicate were among the top issues identified as being obstacles to their independence in Malaysia.

2. Empowering Rohingya women as community leaders  in the life of their communities.

Improved language skills and appreciation of education enable the women to better support their children’s education, communicate with local host communities, as well as access services, and assist other members to do so. Students and teachers also encourage other Rohingya women to join literacy classes.

3. Encouraging an appreciation of girls’ education and prevention of child marriage among Rohingya – educating mothers and daughters together in a safe environment, with the support of male family members, also created a learning environment and appreciation for education within Rohingya families, helping to prevent early marriage of Rohingya girls in the process.

To meet the project’s objectives Geutanyoë organised and supported the establishment and running of a 12-month homeschool programme. Beginning with five sites – in Ampang, Tasik Tambahan, Sentul, Seri Kuching and Klang – it expanded to other areas, including Seri Kembangan and Selayang (Batu Caves). Sites were chosen based on population numbers of Rohingya refugees, interest of Rohingya women in the area to learn literacy in Malay or English and the willingness of a family to host the homeschool project in their home.

The programme employed young and educated Rohingya women as the homeschool teachers. Besides providing these teachers with employment, their involvement as teachers were also a means to build the capacity of Rohingya women. In order to support them, Geutanyoë conducted workshops in 2018, which included pedagogy skills and  the philosophy and methods for assessment. There was also constant engagement with the teachers to understand the concerns addressing the communities they were teaching in, to ensure that the programme can be better tailored to meet the needs of the communities.

Project achievements and new objectives

1. The homeschool project successfully reached 150 Rohingya women and girls in six locations and taught them basic literacy in English and Malay.

2. The project also achieved its objective of empowering Rohingya women to play more active roles in their communities, including as community leaders. Homeschool students gained new confidence, were able to exercise greater mobility, better communication with host communities, and independence, all which resulted in higher respect within their own communities.

 3. The project succeeded in raising the appreciation for girls’ education within Rohingya families, increasing support within families to keep girls in school rather than to marry them off at an early age.

“While this objective is difficult to measure, women and their husbands who have been interviewed about the school spoke of the pride that they felt for their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters and their achievements in learning literacy and communication, said Lilianne Fan.

“Further, it is significant to note that there was no case of forced child marriage involving a homeschool student during the duration of the project.”

The project also enhanced relations between refugee and host communities, a critical priority in multi-cultural Malaysia where there are more than 200,000 refugees living in the country and where increased opportunities for engagement, mutual understanding, social cohesion and integration need to be identified and sustained.

Lilianne fan said: “We believe too that this project is particularly timely in light of the intensification violence against the Rohingya community in Myanmar, the Global Compact on Refugees, and the new government of Malaysia’s commitment to policies that advance the protection of refugee rights as well as the international communities commitment to the SDGs.”

Prizemoney: The Geutanyoë Foundation intends to use the funds to continue and expand the homeschool project for Rohingya women and girls. As the first year of the winning project focused on building strong literacy foundations, the second year will aim to improve use of tenses, adjectives, grammar and pronunciations; build up vocabulary; develop greater ability to express thoughts and accuracy in the language; introduce numeracy skills; improve communication skills; incorporate livelihood skill training such as tailoring and jewellery making; and add monthly after-class sessions on sexual and reproductive health and mental health

Besides teaching basic literacy, Geutanyoë intends to add numeracy classes as well as livelihoods training for Rohingya women and regular sessions on maternal and sexual and reproductive health. We hope that by incorporating a livelihoods component we can eventually help the homeschool project to become financially self-sustaining, while also helping to empower Rohingya women to become economically independent.