Myanmar Children Treasure Toys Amid Bombs and Bullets

By Yuzana 16 February 2023

One fine February afternoon, the children of Let Yet Kone Village in Sagaing Region’s Depayin Township could be heard laughing and shouting for joy in the village school. The 237 students, who include children from two nearby villages, were delighted to be given toys and dolls by their teachers.

Five months previously, the school had been turned into a killing field when the Myanmar military launched indiscriminate airstrikes on the village, killing seven children and six adults. The floor of the school was covered in the blood of children, while the walls were peppered with bullet holes and damaged by shelling.

Residents of Let Yet Kone Village, which is situated in the resistance stronghold of Sagaing Region, were already used to fleeing junta raids. Their village had also been targeted by regime arson attacks on two occasions, leaving most of the houses in the village in ashes.

Children at a school in Sagaing Region holding their new dolls.

Over 40,000 houses in Sagaing Region have been burned down by junta forces. Depayin Township has suffered the most, with 6,018 civilian homes torched as of the end of January 2023, according to independent researchers Data For Myanmar.

Let Yet Kone Village, which has more than 300 houses, was torched in December 2022 and again last month, with almost 250 houses destroyed.

Children without toys

Five-year-old Zaw Htut, a kindergarten student at Let Yet Kone’s school, lost his toys and bicycle in a military regime arson attack.

“I had lots of toys before but all of my toys, cars, robots and animals were destroyed by the fire. And the bicycle I used to ride very often also caught fire,” Zaw Htut told The Irrawaddy. “I want toys, especially toy birds,” he added.

Su Myat, a 13-year-old grade seven student, lost her dolls in a junta arson attack in late December. Her family’s entire house went up in flames and her parents haven’t been able to rebuild it yet.

“My dolls caught fire, but I can’t get new dolls. Me and my friend are just playing, even though we don’t have dolls and toys,” she told The Irrawaddy.

The children of Let Yet Kone have experienced the junta’s brutality first hand. They have had to flee with their parents when regime forces raid their village. But when they return, they play like children everywhere. And they ask their teachers for toys.

“They have nothing left to play with,” said Daw Soe Soe, a teacher at the village school.

New toys arrive

When donors sent new dolls and toys to Let Yet Kone, the children were overjoyed, according to their teachers and parents. The children at the school, who are aged from five to 16, were talking about the dolls and toys even before they arrived.

“The children looked overjoyed after they got the dolls and toys,” said Daw Nu, a Let Yet Kone resident and mother of two children.

Her house was torched by the regime in December 2022. Before the arson attack, she could buy toys and dolls for her five-year-old and 15-year-old. Now, she is unable to do so.

“No parent can afford to buy toys for their children anymore. We are still struggling to rebuild our houses,” Daw Nu told The Irrawaddy.

Like all the villagers, she is happy that donors have gifted the children toys and dolls. The donors not only give gifts to the children of the Anyar Region – central Myanmar – but also to children in ethnic areas by connecting with local charities.

Ma Dar Dar, who donated dolls to Let Yet Kone’s school, said: “My intention is to make them [the children] happy. If they are happy, I am also happy.”

Zaw Htut, Su Myat and the other children were happily playing with their new toys and dolls in the school compound. Zaw Htut got a white dog toy and Su Myat an elephant.

“I got the yellow bear [Winnie the Pooh] and my friend got a pig. We are very happy to get toys,” Lin Lin, an eight-year-old, told The Irrawaddy.

Children in refugee camps

Children in a refugee camp in Kayah State have been given toys and dolls.

Like the children of Let Yet Kone, displaced kids in ethnic areas receive new toys only when donors give them, said a woman assisting refugees in southeast Myanmar’s Kayah State.

“The children liked it when they heard the news that toys were coming,” she said.

“By the time they got the dolls, all the kids in the refugee camp school were laughing and shouting,” added the woman, who requested anonymity.

Despite being displaced by military attacks, the kids in the refugee camps just want to study and play freely like other children.

Children in a refugee camp in Kayah State with donated dolls.

Kids used to fleeing junta raids

The children in Depayin Township are used to fleeing junta forces. In January, thousands of civilians in the township had to leave their villages for eight days to escape regime raids and all schools were closed. When the junta troops depart, the villagers return and start clearing the ash and damage from regime arson attacks.

“We couldn’t reopen the school when we came back because the villagers were busy clearing up the damage,” said Let Yet Kone teacher Daw Soe Soe.

For the children of Let Yet Kone, there are no holidays anymore. They have to study instead to make up for the time they lose at school while fleeing regime raids.

“As we have no holidays, we play every day in our school. However, we all flee when the military dogs are coming,” Su Myat told The Irrawaddy.

Even when they have to escape the village, the children make sure to take their new toys with them.

Ko Phyo, a 16-year-old student, said that the children tell their parents not to take too many clothes and instead to take their toys.

“They carried their toys with them when they fled the military column that raided our village in January,” he said.