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

An Education Crisis in Ranong

Charcoal Factory Children are examples of some of the most vulnerable Burmese Migrant Children not in any education system.

On August 24, 2019, 32 Burmese Migrant Teachers were arrested and deported from a Migrant Learning Centre in Ranong. This has caused an education crisis for the Burmese Migrant Community for the last 3 months with 3,000 children no longer in the education system.

This event has been called the ‘Ranong Raid’ by local media, and has captured NGO’s and Human Rights Advocates attention within Thailand.

At one level this education Crisis has now grown into a Catastrophe because the latest ‘crisis’ is on top of the sad reality that up to 80% of Migrant children are already ‘Out of School’ and 85% of Migrant Children normally leave education around 12 years of age.

While meetings continue, we are very mindful of the daily distress of parents and children who cannot send their children to school, who have to take their children to the fish and charcoal factories, the markets, and their various workplaces, which are often dangerous and not suitable for children.

Children are now locked up in homes for the day or roam the streets, they seek to play internet games at computer shops or sit at home all day feeling sad about their lost opportunities. Some parents and employers have requested us to please allow children to come to the Marist Centre as a ‘safe place’ for their children while they go to work.

Students in the Burmese Migrant Secondary Education Programme in Marist Asia Foundation are allowed to continue their education. 4 Years Secondary Education brings much brighter futures for Burmese Migrant Children.

The current challenge is that we are no longer allowed Burmese teachers to teach in the classrooms. Only Thai teachers are allowed to ‘teach’ while the current education and documentation challenge for Burmese Migrant Teachers and Students is unravelled.

While there have many meetings at both the local levels of Ministry of Education and among Migrant Learning Centres, and also meetings with United Nations IOM, UNESCO, UNICEF, Save The Children, World Vision, Help without Frontiers and other NGO’s, there has been little real progress made for the children.

While children sit at home or on the streets, one of the key debates in the background is between sending migrant children to Thai Schools; the ‘security’ and ‘sustainability’ argument. Or allowing Migrant Learning Centres to exist to serve the more flexible needs of migrant communities whose needs are to learn their own Burmese language and have an education pathway that allows them to return back to Myanmar and continue education; the ‘Myanmar education’ and ‘Burmese Parents Return Home’ argument.

This debate focusses us on the role and vital place of ‘Migrant Learning Centres’ in the context of providing flexible education for Burmese Migrant Children. For the past 15-20 years they have been allowed to operate, yet the Ranong Raid has now questioned their legality under Thai Law.

The current challenge is to find a solution so that our Burmese teachers are properly documented and allowed to return to the classrooms, Learning Centres are registered under Thai Law, and children are able to return to education.

Some 160 Burmese parents have chosen to send their children to some of the local Thai schools, and while they have been welcomed, this situation has revealed the lack of preparedness for teachers who can communicate in Burmese, a suitable curriculum for children who do not have the necessary Thai language skills, and the capacity to manage large numbers of migrant children.

This has caused many migrant parents to be upset with the education experience of their children and the loss of a suitable education pathway for their children.

Marist Asia Foundation has been committed to advocate for a genuine dialogue with both government and Burmese Learning Centres. We have hosted numerous meetings of both parties. We ourselves are currently taking steps to place our Burmese staff on Non Immigrant O Volunteer Visa’s as a way of returning them safely to the classroom, and we have begun the process for legal registration as a Learning Centre for our Education Programmes.

Yet the registration process is not clear for Burmese Migrant Learning Centres and their specific needs: Can they teach a flexible Thai and Myanmar Curriculum? Can they be approved to have ‘Burmese Teachers’? What criteria do they need to meet in terms of physical learning spaces and teacher qualifications?

Currently Marist Asia Foundation is the only Learning Centre open and providing education for Burmese Migrants in Ranong outside of the Royal Thai Government School system. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Thai Non Formal Education Department and use our Thai teachers and International Volunteer Teachers to continue our education programmes.

Marist Asia Foundation has also made a decision to welcome up to 60 more Burmese Migrant Teenagers early into the Burmese Migrant Secondary Education Programme with an entrance test on Dec 13. We will have an early start date for January 6 rather than May 15 to urgently bring back students into a daily education routine.

We sincerely hope that the Thai Government recognises the special and complex context of education on the Myanmar Thailand Border for Migrant communities. We have around 110 Migrant Learning Centres supporting over 16,000 vulnerable Burmese Migrant Children on the Thai Burma Border. And this is not including the estimated 200,000 Burmese Migrant Children who are not in any education system at all. The recognition and support of Burmese Migrant Learning Centres is vitally important to achieve ‘Education For All’ children.

The most vulnerable Burmese Migrant Children need to be kept at the centre of the discussion about sustainable education pathways.

Added to this complexity we have over 700 Burmese teachers unrecognised and extremely poorly paid. We need NGO’s, Education Stakeholders and both Thai and Myanmar Governments to dialogue together to reach an agreement about an effective and sustainable solution for the future of Burmese Migrant Children on the Thai Burma Border. We need to keep the education needs of the most vulnerable Burmese Migrant Children at the centre of the discussion so that any solution will truly bring them a brighter future.

We are thankful to so many supporters and organisations who have shown their concern and advocacy with us over the past 3 months. We continue to work together for the right to education for all our migrant children.

To understand more about the challenges and needs of Burmese Migrant Children you can download: Burmese Migrant Education Survey: Bridges – Participatory Action Research on the Future of Migrant Education in Thailand. You can download this report here

Marist Asia Foundation was proud to be a partner with other Migrant Education Organisations in this 2019 Research Project.

Migrant Worker Stories: Gaining Skills, Growing Hope

Marist Asia Foundation recognises that so many Burmese Migrant Workers have stopped their education journey around 12 years of age to find work to support their families. Many work in fish factories. By providing Sunday Migrant Workers classes, giving life skills and Thai, English and Computer Classes they can have more choices beyond the fish factory in their future.

“English is the International language to communicate and find information on the internet”

I am Ma Thet Hnin Oo. I have been living and working in Ranong, Thailand for several years. I have been studying free English class once a week every Sunday in Marist Asia Foundation for 3 months already.

Now, I am glad to see my improvement. Before I studied here, I could only read English alphabet. I have never dreamed that I had such a good chance to study English again in my life. It is so difficult to find this kind of study chance once a week while you are working here.

Now, I am getting to know some fruit vocabularies in English. I start listening to English song and trying to read some English words on banner or on street and road. I think when we used to speak and learn English frequently, it is getting easier.

I find it quite interesting and fun learning English. English is international use language to communicate and find information on internet. My co-workers find me quite funny when I practice my English with them but I don’t. I know that it’s a good way to practice your new language.

I am inspired with the teachers who are teaching me in the class. I wish I could speak, read and write English fluently like them. I know that it takes long time to do it. I need to work hard for that. I am thankful to each one of people who involves in this program such as teachers, program donor and manager.

“I aim to share with others what I have learnt in class”

I am Mg Wathan Ko Ko. Now, I am studying in Thai class. I am from Mon State, Myanmar. My parents left there. I have been living in Ranong, Thailand for a while. In the past, I had been worked in fish factory and I had studied Computer class at Marist Asia Foundation (MAF). Then, I lost the chance to continue to study because I had to work full time and I was so busy. Now, I quit from that job and am working in Phone shop. The reason I quit my previous job because I would like to study in Thai Class which is supported by MAF and could take day off every Sunday.

 

I want to understand Thai because I live in Thailand. I have been discriminated by others because I don’t understand Thai.  I am very happy to come and study in Thai class. There are many people who do not understand Thai like me. I wish

they all could get a chance like I do. I also aim to share others back what I have learnt in my class. MAF gives this opportunity to our Burmese migrant workers and children who are indeed needed to be in classroom again is what a precious gift ever we have received. Now, people like me who are in classroom again can shine like a diamond in the sky because the supports from MAF, teachers and managers who run this program well. We will be always thankful and grateful to all who involved in this program.

“Nowadays is technology era… I think everyone should learn computer skills”

My name is Daw San New Oo. I am working as a head master of Lotus Pond Learning Centre in Ranong, Thailand. I have been working as a teacher in Ranong for 14 years.

Nowadays is technology era, I think everyone should learn ITC skill. I am learning it so I can manage the school data, information, and accounting properly on computer. I can teach back to my students too.

In my computer class, I have

been learning properly from the basic and usage of computer by understanding, applying and also playing games. I have learnt the Hardware and software which are the parts of a personal computer, the connections between Input and Output of the hardware, application usages base on operating system which are included in Software, the brain of a computer or CPU which can work millions of jobs within a second, and the process of Hard Disk and RAM. All in all, I have started learning from typing and Microsoft Word in practical way.

In the future, I am going to apply what I have learnt in my class to my learning Center and will also share back to my students.

“After I joined English Class my mind has changed”

I am Ma Thandar who is eager to study English in a class. It has been a long time already that I wish I could study English but I didn’t have a chance like now.

The reason was my day off is every Tuesday instead of Sunday and I was not allowed to take day off on Sunday by the factory which I have been working for. Fortunately, the factory has made a day off to everyone on Sunday and I was very happy. I was happier than others because it was the same time which the English class was started. After I have joined the class for 3 months, I am in a bad fortune again because the factory announced again that there is no more day off every Sunday. So, I asked permission to take a day off on Sunday to my leader but the leader has not given a specific answer yet. Despite the challenges, I have decided to study until the end.

The reasons I am joining the class are firstly, to be a successful person in my future and secondly, some of my colleagues used to look down on me as an illiterate person.  Finally, I want to receive a course completed certificate. The English class is quite useful for me. I have been learning new vocabularies in my class.

 

I was a shy person before but now I am confident and believe in myself. Before, I thought I was not good but after I joined my English class my mind has changed. I become a person who has confidence and courage to stay strong for the rest of my life. I wish I could study in online diploma course from ACU (Australian Catholic University).  That’s my dream but I don’t know where and how to start and get in the course. At least now I have started with Basic English class.

Finally, I would like to thanks to all teachers and people who have been supporting this program to happen.

Stories of Hope: Marist Asia Foundation Annual Report 2018

As we reach the end of the year we share our achievements and thanks to all our Friends and Supporters.

We hope you enjoy seeing the joy in the smiles of the students. The hope in the eyes of our young graduates. The love your support has given and grown here in the Burmese Migrant Community of Ranong.
Download: 2018 Marist Asia Foundation Narrative Report
Download: 2018 Marist Asia Foundation Annual Report.