It was one of the most absorbing, stimulating, and educationally connecting experiences in our professional lives.

Sue and Glenn Roff were a Marist Volunteer Couple, both experienced teachers in Australia, who volunteered in 2019 – 2020. They supported the Burmese Migrant Secondary Programme, Australian Catholic University Online Diploma Programme, and the late afternoon Intermediate English Programme. Here is their reflection after they returned to Australia March 2020.

When we reflect on Ranong so many things come to mind: Markets. Smiles. Motor bikes. Cars. Dogs. Heat. Smells. Families on bikes. Rubbish. Small homes jammed together. Spotless homes. Great coffee. Beaut restaurants. Festivals. No bartering. Fish! Large supermarkets. Nothing is as it seems sometimes (language barrier). Rain. Temples. Hot springs. Shopping. Noise. Bird buildings. Songtels (small buses)… and then there’s the Marist School, the Burmese community, the raison d’etre .

Perhaps some volunteers think they’re going to Ranong to “save” the school – that is far from being required. Marist Asia Foundation is a thriving, extremely well run organization with a dedicated staff in place.

The reason Sue and I ultimately volunteered was because of personal contact with Fr Frank, the Director of Marist Asia Foundation. We chatted with him over lunch about the nature and extent of this Marist outreach. We followed up with the viewing of some powerpoint images and a question and answer session.

We went to help make a difference in a Marist Mission. There was a degree of humility in our offering of selves in that neither of us had actually taught in a classroom for a decade, yet, reconnecting was very straight forward. The teaching program / resources are well based and systematic.

We also had a feeling that if we were going to commit for 12 months we needed to have some knowledge about some important questions: What was the context? What was the MAF team like? What was it like to live in Ranong? What were the teaching expectations? What resources were at the school to support teaching?

We opted for 12 months which, in retrospect, was the optimal time commitment. In reality, it took us 4-6 weeks to get a confident sense of standards, resources and professional flexibilities. The idea of a 3 month contract is a nonsense.

We would highly recommend the full school year  (May – March) because in that time you get to appreciate the social context of the migrant community, and get to know both staff and students by name and personality. You also enjoy the experience of all the festivals and celebrations over a full year. 12 months enabled us to gain confidence in accessing the wonderful, less promoted tourist spots / coffee houses and restaurants in Ranong. When we left to return home it felt like we were saying ‘goodbye’ to old friends throughout Ranong.

We felt a strong sense of satisfaction in our sustained commitment. It was certainly one of the most absorbing, stimulating and educationally connecting experiences in our professional lives.

There are 150 students of school age (11-16). Courses in post school English lead into an on-line university course in Liberal Arts; as well, young teachers are enrolled in a Teaching and Learning course.

What is palpable and literally shines through the faces of all present is a passion and gratitude for  education. Discipline problems are almost non-existent, although you still have to allow for the fact that you are teaching TEENAGERS.

Volunteers bring another experience to MAF; they complement the number of staff required to teach across the all the programmes. Each Volunteer is positioned according to individual skills and experience, and is supported every step of the way with regard to familiarisation in the school and in the town, with visa updates, with generous inclusion in the Marist Community.

Which brings us to … the Marist Community . In our time we saw 3 good men come and go for varying lengths of stay, moving on to different callings. As well, Fr Frank and Fr Larry were constants. Both welcoming, warm and intelligent men.

The Volunteer Apartments we lived in were also with Sisters Margaret and Annie, Head Teacher Katie. Diverse characters. Interesting and fun discussions. Caring people. There are two standing invitations. On Wednesdays … Mass in the intimate chapel, followed by dinner together. On Fridays … TGIF drinks and dinner. Family. These moments at the Marist Community House also included Toby and his wife Sun Sun. Family.

The Volunteer Apartment offered to volunteers is unadorned yet functional. It doesn’t take long to adjust to no air conditioning and no hot water. In fact, one develops a renewed appreciation of the effectiveness of the humble fan. The toilet, in our experience, was a tad ‘unpredictable’ but, with a refrigerator, microwave and reliable electricity, everything was ok. There were also a number of options regarding the exercise nearby such as a gym and swimming pool which we enjoyed.

It helped to have a 7 Eleven within walking distance for milk, yoghurt and bread and there were good choices for eating places close by. One has to get used to hard cement floors in the flat and surreptitious use of thongs/sandals and other cushioned footwear compensated. More than anything else, the flat was home and always an appealing retreat despite the paucity of A.V. entertainment options.

There are some wonderful cultures on display at school in the everyday. The students thoroughly enjoy ‘play time’ and organize their own games. They don’t need officials as they self referee without incident and they don’t seem to keep score – the playing being the joy, the score being quite peripheral.

We never tired of the friendly greetings from the students, the big smiles and the underlying respect. If one loves the students (and they are easy to love) then the visiting teacher will have that returned in spades. Smiling is the universal language beyond learning some basic Thai/Burmese phrases. Both hold one in good stead.

Less experienced teachers could stick to the program and there are sufficient tasks and activities to engage the students meaningfully. Keeping a close eye on the program is important given the place of the examination week three times a year and the desirability of referencing performance. We believe being an experienced teacher is of benefit. Yet, if an unqualified volunteer was relational, humble, organized and creative, then one could thrive and enjoy teaching in this unique environment.

The notion of teaching outside one’s area of specialization is not a large issue given the systematic nature of the program and the resources. The reality is also that you are basically teaching at a primary and / or middle school level.  There exists a vibrant learning community amongst staff that is quite uplifting beyond the support one can expect from the Coordinator of BMSP (Burmese Migrant Schools Program).

MAF provides the accommodation, electricity / water and a motorbike . We loved the 125cc Honda that would take both of us to and from school as well as to the giant stores for supplies. The traffic is a tad unpredictable but one can and should employ defensive driving strategies and that worked for us. The capacity to go for a cup of coffee during the day when there was a gap in the timetable was a life saver. And there are a number of excellent coffee houses. The bus system, we thought, was brilliant. Regular and low cost (75c a trip anywhere) as well as providing an opportunity to rub shoulders with generally very friendly locals.

It does get humid in Ranong especially in April / May / June and one does, especially in those months, live with a film of sweat. Yet, it was manageable. The fans in the flats were lifesavers and were utilized over the whole year to good effect.

We don’t see age as being an issue. We were 70 and 69 respectively. Positivity and belief in the goodness of the project were far more important qualities.

Stories of Hope: Marist Asia Foundation Annual Report 2019

2019 has been a year with many challenges, yet we see so many stories of hope among our Burmese Migrant families.

In our Annual Report you can read about the ‘Ranong Raid’ and how it has left over 2,700 Burmese Migrant Children out of education.

Read some stories from our teenagers and young teachers of the hope that comes from education. Learn also the experience of HIV Patients who are supported back to life and a hopeful future because of our HIV Health Programme.

Thanks to everyone for the support in 2019. You can download a pdf version here. Continue to see regular stories of how your support is making a big difference at www.facebook.com/maristasiafoundation

I will not let the words ‘no chance’ control my life.

Marist Asia Foundation believes education is the greatest gift we can give to a Migrant Community. Growing young Burmese Migrant Teachers is the best investment in social and community development. Each teacher becomes a role model, a community leader, a sign of hope, an older Sister or Brother for hundreds of students. Marist Asia Foundation has been delighted to see students continue education into the University Programme, now continue into the Certificate in Teaching and Learning Programme and become inspirational teachers for other Burmese Migrant Teenagers
 Marist Asia Foundation has identified the need to ensure a young Burmese Teacher becomes qualified with a Bachelor of Education to ensure our capacity and sustainability for the future. We are seeking support to fund a scholarship to help May Thazin Oo go to Australia. Read her story and her hope to return and support Marist Asia Foundation. 

My name is May Tha Zin Oo. I am 20 years and I am from Myanmar. I have just graduated in Ranong through the Australian Catholic University Online Diploma Programme and now I am studying the Certificate in Teaching and Learning course from Australian Catholic University. My dream is to become a Teacher.

My family used to live in Kawthaung, Myanmar, before we moved to Ranong, Thailand. When I was young, my family was poor. My mother stayed at home and took care of us. At that time, only my father was working. His job was fishing and he took a long time in the sea to get back home.

The money that my father got from fishing was not enough to feed our family. Because of poverty my parents sent us to live with my grandmother and they moved to Ranong, Thailand to find jobs. I lived at my grandmother’s house for a year and then my Aunt’s house so we could get an education but it is expensive to go to school in Myanmar. My parents did not have money to support us. My mother called us to live with them in Ranong as Migrants.

I went to study at Ban Maria Migrant Learning Center and at that time I heard about Marist Asia Foundation. I studied hard and took the entrance exam and I passed. I completed the Burmese Migrant Secondary Education Programme in 2016 and continued learning Intermediate and Academic English. I studied the ACU Diploma and continued to study Academic English 2 and TOEFL ITP course to improve my English.

During the time I was studying, I was a part-time volunteer at Bangnon Learning Center, and I taught Thai language and during weekends I also was teaching English for Burmese Migrant Workers as part of the Migrant Outreach Programme (MOP) at Marist Asia Foundation.

Currently, I am a teacher at Marist Asia Foundation (MAF) and I teach Thai, Mathematics, and Science. During the time I have worked at MAF I have learnt a lot from my students and my workmates. I have also got to know the situation of the migrant families and their challenges in Ranong.

There have been three main teaching training experiences that especially have helped me have a better understanding of teaching. I had the opportunity to participate in teaching training “Improving Thai as Second language learning for Migrant Children in Ranong (TSL) with Save the Children International (SCI) and Mahidol University. I was also involved in teacher training with Mr. Wim Epskamp for three months where I learnt how to write lesson plans, how to manage time, classroom organization and behaviour management.

Currently I am studying online to complete the Certificate in Teaching and Learning with Australian Catholic University (ACU). Teaching Learning and Context, Classroom Management, Contexts for Learning and Development have been great courses for me. I am now doing Assessment for Learning. These courses help develop my teaching ability and let me now about best practices in teaching.

In the future, I want to be a qualified teacher and give quality education to our Burmese Migrant Children. I love to spend my time with my students and share a smile with them. There is a speech that motivates my teaching “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like” (Rita Pierson). My big dream is to continue to a Bachelor of Education at Australian Catholic University in Brisbane because my Aunty lives there.

If I get the opportunity to study at ACU for a Bachelor of Education I would like to come back to Marist Asia Foundation and serve back to my migrant community. Sometimes I think that the person who really knows and deeply understands about migrant life is a ‘Migrant’. Therefore, I believe in myself that in the future I will be a person to serve back with a full heart and be effective in the community.

I also hope that in the future there is another Marist Asia Foundation in Myanmar for the poor children, and I will be one of the staff who is willing to be involved. To be a part of it I need to study Bachelor of Education to make myself ready for the future.

Now I am a teacher but I would like to study and learn more. The reason why I choose to be a teacher is because my mother always said to us “if you become an educated person, do not forget your people and other people, help them as much as you can help”.

My mother’s words also make me want to be a teacher more and more. From my own perspective, a teacher is not only the person who shares knowledge or teaches in front of the class, but the teacher is also a person who gives love, kindness, and peacefulness to students.

I strongly believe in the words of Nelson Mandela ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. I believe the school and good teachers are the best support for the future needs of Burmese Migrant and Children in Myanmar.

I would like to ask sponsorship to study at ACU for a Bachelor of Education to fulfill my dream to become true. Then I can be one of the people who can take care of Marist Asia Foundation in the future and will fulfill the needs of the Burmese Migrants and Children.

May Thazin Oo

When you have your health you have everything

Marist Asia Foundation began HIV Health work in the Migrant Town of Ranong in 2007. Migrants living with HIV AIDS are among the most abandoned in the community. Often abandoned by family, discriminated against at work and in the community, they tend to live in very difficult conditions. Here is a story about one of our patients.

We found a very sick lonely man in hospital. Thiha is his name. We approached him and introduced our organization and our service to him. We visited him in his place where he lived alone in a very old small hut near the sea. It was an awful place to live. There were many rubbish and plastic bottles around. His little hut was broken and the roof needed replacement. We supported and gave him nutrition and we followed up his medication closely. We helped prepared his food for he had no strength to do by himself.

In the very beginning, there was nobody who wanted to go near him. He did not have any family or relatives around. Through our support and care, he was getting better. He gained back his health and was able to work again. People in his neighbourhood became aware about his status and they also accepted his HIV status.

He was also able accept himself as HIV positive and was able to live with it. He looked after himself, attended his medical appointments in the hospital and took his medication regularly. He was very grateful to the Health Team for the patience to assist him and support him from the beginning. It took sometime to gain back his health and his self-confidence.

The health team journeyed with him for quite a long time through education on HIV and encouraged him to participate in the self-help group. In the long run, he responded well to the advice and assistance of the team. He was able to relate well with neighbors. He was able to communicate with his children and invited his elder son to come in Ranong to visit him. He became an active member in the Self-help group and shared his successful experience to the new patients which inspired and encouraged them.

He is currently working as labourer at saw mill company in Ranong. He lives a balanced and healthy life. He became an independent patient who can sustain and support himself and he now sends money back to Myanmar to support the education of his daughter.

As he shared with the Health team, there is one thing that he learnt in his life: “when you have your health, you have everything.” It was very true for the health team to help him restore his health which helped him to be able to reintegrate with his neighbour, with his friends and especially with his family. It made him whole again.

 

I never give up because my Father supports me

My name is Thin Thin San and I’m 18 years old. I was born on 14th June 2001 at Yangon, Myanmar. Now, I live in Ranong, Thailand with my father and mother. I’m an only child for my Mum and Dad. We left Myanmar in 2011 because my family has had a lot of problems with working and money. We are not a rich family that’s why we have come to Ranong.

When I was in Ranong, I didn’t study for one year because my parents didn’t have a job and we were only focused on our livelihood.

When I started my school, I had a lot of trouble with Thai subject because I have never studied Thai before. However, I got help from my new friends and Thai teacher to be good at Thai subject and language.

I had one teacher who named Sayar U Thi Ha who knew my education skills and always believed in me. He is a perfect teacher who has graduated from Australia Catholic University (ACU).

When I was nearly finishing Grade– 3, Sayar U Thi Ha said that “you need to go and study at Marist Asia Foundation (MAF) which is the school that can make your education better than here”.

Fortunately, I passed an entrance exam and started a Year – 1 class with my new friends. So, I became a high – school student. However, being a high – school student was very hard for me. I failed two or three subjects at every exam when I did in Year – 1.

I studied hard every night after I have this experience and my learning became better and better every year. I came to understand what education is and how it is important for me. To have a better education will give me confidence everywhere. When I think about my future to my Dad, he always said “don’t worry about your future, it will be fine, you got me and I will never let you be a person who loses education and future”.

My mother couldn’t work because she has a problem with her health. So, only my father work and find money for my study, for our livelihood and for my mother healthcare. Marist Asia Foundation (MAF) where I was studying always helped me with school fees. The fees were 300 Baht for every month but I needed to pay only 150 Baht because the teacher understands my family life.

My home was very far from school so I had a problem with transport until now. I have had many problems especially money problems but I have never given up because my father was always supporting me.

After I finished Year – 4 successfully, I worked as a teacher at Ban Maria Learning Centre who taught KG – 2. When I worked as a teacher, I got a lot of experience. I studied English harder because I knew that English is the most important language in the world. The other reason was that I really wanted to join Australia Catholic University (ACU). It was my first dream and for my parents.

I have worked to find money for my parents before I became a university student as much as I could. When I wasn’t doing well at my studies, my father said “focus on your learning only. The reason why I still living in Ranong is because of your education. Everything I doing right now is for you and I have only you”. English was a very difficult subject for me but I always tried to do the best. I was always thinking that my parents will be proud of me one day.

Over the years, the money problems in my family haven’t become easier. I was not really wanting to continue my learning and I wanted to work but my father didn’t allow me. Then, my father really wanted me to join ACU. We spent a lot of money to join ACU. I did a visa and Myanmar ID card because I could not join if I didn’t have a visa. It cost more than 10,000 Baht to get a visa.

Finally, I could join ACU, I could go anywhere, I could do anything that I want because of my father. Luckily, I passed the ACU entrance exam. My parents were very proud of me and I was very excited to be a university student. I have simple dreams. After I finish ACU, I want to be a teacher again to share my knowledge and skills for Burmese Migrant Children. I really want to join Marist Asia Foundation (MAF) team. My big dream is to support Burmese Migrant People who have adversity in Ranong because I have also experienced that.