Growing Hope – ACU University Online Diploma Programme

Tutoring the Online University Class – Teacher Katie

This year I have had the privilege of being the tutor for the Australian Catholic University online Diploma programme in Ranong, Thailand. This programme provides tertiary level education for migrants on the Thai/Myanmar border in two locations: Ranong and Mae Sot.

In Ranong, we have 16 students who will study everything from Management and Development Studies to Global History and World Health over an 18-month period. Most of the study is completed online with a tutor helping to ‘unpack’ the concepts and explain difficult vocabulary. Some courses also have a face-to-face component with lecturers travelling from Australia to spend time with the students.

Most of our students have been through the BMSP secondary education programme at the Marist Asia Foundation. Their parents work in Ranong in a range of industries and work very hard so that their children can benefit from a good education. The students have already overcome many personal and family challenges to reach this level of study.

So what’s it like, coming from New Zealand, to work with these students? Imagine working in a classroom full of engaged, smiling, friendly and fun, studious, and ‘ready to learn’ young people. And, like any good teaching experience, the learning is reciprocal. Not only am I learning about Myanmar language and culture, I’m learning about management, leadership, and resilience in the face of challenging situations.

Our students are learning about ‘critical thinking’ or seeing different sides of a problem or situation. They are learning to ask questions and challenge the information presented in the course material. They are learning to think about the ‘pros and cons’ of each idea or theory and what their own response might be after reading the research. One week we watched a short film about the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. This challenged them to think beyond their pre-conceived ideas about citizenship to the reality of peoples’ experience, but also that for every problem there are two or more sides to consider.

This month we had a visit from a past student of the ACU programme. She now works at an international bank in Yangon, Myanmar and shared confidently in Burmese and English about her experiences after completing her studies. She stressed the importance of ‘life-long learning’ and shared about the competitive nature of the job-market in Myanmar. Her language and interpersonal skills (not just her academic record) had secured her a good job.

That’s our hope for all our students then, that they will be ‘workplace’ ready with academic knowledge (competency), social skills (chemistry), and life skills (character). We also hope they will give back to their community in some way, either here in Thailand or in Myanmar and make the most of the opportunity they have been given.

As for me, I’m enjoying this opportunity I have been given. Thank you Marist Asia Foundation and the Australian Catholic University for your commitment to this special project.

I learnt how to love people who are neglected

Living in a new culture and environment is always challenging. I am training to be a Marist. I come from Papua New Guinea but have been studying in Rome. I got the opportunity to experience and contribute to the life of the Marist Mission in Ranong.

The life in Ranong is such a unique place when it comes to dealing with different religions and culture. I was so privileged for being part of the community in Ranong for 3 months. It helped me grow in my human life and my Spiritual growth.

I enjoyed working with education for the Burmese migrants and health outreach to those with HIV. We brought hope in the lives of the people that we worked with.

I had a special teaching experience in the Migrant Learning Centers. They have such joy to receive an education. It was great to be a teacher for them and encourage them to persevere in their life.  They actually taught me so much about what life really means. They contributed to my religious formation.

My experience with the health ministry going out visiting sick people with HIV has been one of the unique experiences of my life. It gave me the opportunity to be with them and see them with dignity. I could see our visits brought a smile to their faces.

They formed me to grow in love and respect to every human person. The experience of being with HIV people made me learn how to love people who are neglected by the society. To be like Mary and be a mother to them.  I learnt a lot from them.

I wish to thank the community in Ranong and the Marist Theologate in Rome for giving me this opportunity. I will treasure it a lot because it gave me many opportunities to grow in my formation as a Marist.

Thank you very much to the Ranong community for all the support and help you shared with me in my 3 months with you. It was a wonderful experience.

I’ve learnt lessons I will never forget

For young Europeans of my generation who have grown up in a continent without boundaries, the border has always represented an abstract concept rather than an obstacle or concrete physical limits. With our roots firmly anchored and grounded far beyond our national borders, we’ve travelled, worked and also loved crossing freely those faded lines on the maps.  

We’ve developed a sense of unity, the awareness of being part of something larger than our little selves and, quoting a well-known figure, that “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”.

_mg_1851At least in Europe, the only boundaries that we have always had to deal with were those generated by our minds, the boundaries that we ourselves have drawn.

It has always been a matter of lines: the lines that separated us from achieving our goals, the intangible lines that we have drawn to separate us from the people who surround us, that, as time passed by, we’ve turned into barriers hoping that nobody overcomes them.

And while the European Union is now busy restoring borders and boundaries through walls and kilometers of barbed wire, young people of my generation feel suffocated by these lines.

Just when you try to put your head above the parapet and have a look beyond the border that you feel that sense of emptiness. A mixture of fear and desire that push the most adventurous of us to pack up and take a chance, crossing borders, driven by the desire to discover what lies on the other side.

For all these reasons, I decided to spend almost one year of my life in Ranong, a border town between Thailand and Myanmar. Ranong is one of those places on Earth where the border can be so slight and, at the same time, heavier than any other barrier.

Because of their experience of oppression, poverty, and lack of work opportunities in their own country, many people from Myanmar decide to cross the border and come here in Thailand searching for a better future for themselves and their families, but most of the time what they find is a hard life full of tremendous challenges: fraud and abuse; lack of access to healthcare, educational opportunities and other resources due to the nature of their migration status.

Here along the Thai-Myanmar border, where the Marist Asia Foundation serves the poorest Burmese migrants through education and health programs, I was surrounded by these amazing people who have shaped my life over the last year. Thanks to them I’m not only another year older but another year wiser.

_mg_1837Even if I was supposed to be the teacher for the students of the Burmese Migrant Secondary Programme I think that inside those classes I’m the one who learnt most.

At the beginning, the students were so shy and silent, but their big smiles made me feel immediately at ease. And this is how it started.

As time passed, they became less shy and more talkative and they started sharing with me their life and their experiences, despite language difficulties. I’ve discovered how hard their life can be, but wonderfully their smiles have never changed.

From this experience, I’ve learned that life can be extremely hard at times, but you never have to get tired of smiling.

I’ve learned the power of acceptance, that doesn’t mean resignation, but simply do not spend your energies focusing on what cannot be changed, ruining the serenity of your day.

I’ve learned that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something that you don’t have, but of being thankful for all you have. 

Three simple life lessons that I hope I’ll never forget!

Marist Asia Foundation is thankful to Caritas Italiana for sending young Italian Volunteers to support the Health and Education Programmes over the past several years. Their presence and support has reminded our Burmese Migrant Children and families of the love and support of so many people from around the world

Migration – so many people talking but not listening

10873443_1246263918733308_8656712566083215933_oMany people talk about migrants but don’t listen to their stories. Compassion happens when we really listen to another’s story.

Archbishop Charles Bo, the leader of the Catholic Community in Myanmar recently shared a moving message highlighting the pain and also the hopes of so many migrants and refugees forced to remain ‘away from their home’ of Myanmar.

It is a striking message highlighting the challenge of migrants and the response of host countries.

He asks that we become like parents to the ‘orphans’ who arrive in foreign lands.

We urgently plead with all bring peace.  Do not displace our people. Our families are broken into pieces.  Please give a chance and make our people be united in the families.  Pope Francis calls for the integrity of families as the first duty of all.  We urge you unite our families. Let our children live with their parents, and parents have the joy of seeing their children every day.

Below is his full message delivered on a special day for the People of Myanmar – Parents Day – when families and communities celebrate and show great respect to their parents.

Parents’ Day Message and Prayer – Charles Cardinal Bo, Yangon Myanmar, 2016
God is our Father. God is our mother. The Bible has a beautiful sentence. Even if the mother forgets her child, I shall not forget you.  When we honor our parents we honor God himself. I extend my prayerful wishes to all the parents.  The Bible is full of praise for parents. It opens with the first parents.  Abraham is our father of faith. We have the holy family.  Jesus was brought up by two holy parents. Parents are closer to God since they cooperate in bringing life to this world.  Life is a gift from God. Parents are willing to receive that gifts and nurture it and help the life to go.

But this year we wish to turn our attention to those who are away from our dear mother land – Myanmar.  We know we are around 55 million people.  We are from 135 tribes.  We are all sons and daughters of this nation.  But this year I wish to bring to our attention the heart breaking conditions of millions of our brothers and sisters who are living like orphans away from this land.

fishing-image-2Migrant workers without any legal protection

Nearly three million of our brothers and sisters do not live in this mother land. They are living in foreign lands.  Many of them left in the eighties and the nineties – often trafficked by the human trafficking mafia since this great nation and its rulers those days refused to give a quality education, refused to create local opportunities for employment, our innocent youth were forced into risky migration.

Many of them are slaves in Thailand, in Malaysia and in China.  Recently we read about the ‘ boat slaves’ who were chained to the boats every day after their work.  They are all from Myanmar and some of them were considered dead by their families because they could not communicate with the outside world. Our heart goes to them.

We appeal to authorities; these are made orphans by an inhuman system. Our Myanmar people are graceful people, non-violent and kind to all and this has become a liability. They have become the slaves of South East Asia. I urge the government to become their parents and bring them home.  This land belongs to them. They are not orphans.

Refugees in the Camps       
Thousands fled the civil wars of the last five decades. Many were given asylum in the first world countries.  But thousands were waiting in futile hope of being resettled in the third country. That hope is turning into a night mare.  No third country is willing to accept them.  For decades our people termed as refugees are standing in queues looking for the international handouts.  But these hand outs are dwindling.  International community is tired of the Myanmar refugees.  The camp conditions are abominable.  We recently made a visit to these camps. These are black holes of despair sucking our people into a bottomless bit of despair and inhumanity.  These are children forgotten by mother Myanmar.

I urge the government of Myanmar and Thailand and the UN agencies to accelerate the process of safe return and rehabilitation of thousands of our country men and women. I urge the government to hand over the lands of our people, ensure quality education and employment, making the return a dignified process for our people whose camp life is really  turning into  a valley of bones.

I urge the concerned people to blow the spirit of hope into these camps and let the children of Myanmar come back to their mother land. They cannot sing the Lord’s song in an Alien land.

IDPs internally displaced people inside Myanmar
War, mines, natural disasters, and dams have displaced nearly a million in our country. They are away from their homes.  Nearly 300,000 of   victims of civil conflicts languish in the camps. Their youth are not with them. Their families are fragmented.  Youth are trafficked to China, to Thailand and to Malaysia.  Their mothers cannot be consoled because unscrupulous elements snatch their children.

Modern day Herods target a whole generation through war and displacement. The lands of our people are confiscated by those who have guns – both the government and non-state actors are culhousepable in making our people orphans – depriving them of their core identity – land.  Millions of acres of our people’s land have passed on to the cronies and companies.  Our people are refugees in their own land.  These landless people are the latest and the largest group of orphans.

We urge the international community to pressurize both the government and the non-state actors to return the lands of our people.

Our brothers and sisters – victims of fear and continuing war
Thousands of Karens and Kachins are like children without parents. They are refugees for decades.  Land mines abound in their original places. War continues. They want to come back but fear chokes their spirit. If there is no peace,   millions of our people are made orphans due to fear. They refuse to return.  How can we be happy of return of democracy and a leadership lauded for moral witness when millions cannot be at peace? Myanmar needs peace.  War has created conditions that are like an orphanage in many parts of our country. Our people are orphaned when the state and the non-state actors instill great fear in them with arms.

In many places our innocent people have to face two governments and two armies. We urgently plead with all bring peace.  Do not displace our people. Our families are broken into pieces.  Please give a chance and make our people be united in the families.  Pope Francis calls for the integrity of families as the first duty of all.  We urge you unite our families. Let our children live with their parents, and parents have the joy of seeing their children every day.

People of Good will who are away from their parents because of sacrifice to their fellow human beings

I wish to send my wishes to Myanmar brothers and sisters serving in many nations, as church personnel, NGO workers and in other vocations. You are away in a sign of great sacrifice.  You have brought joy and hope to thousands where you serve.  You have sacrificed the joy of seeing your parents and dear ones, while you serve people from other cultures.   May God be your father and mother and we pray that your sacrifice be rewarded hundred fold.

I also gratefully wish all those foreigners, church personnel, NGO personnel and others whose contribution to this nation and church is an abundant blessing.   You have made this your country; you have made our people your brothers and sisters.  Many of you are away for a long time from your families and parents.  We wish you a great day and affirm our filial love to you ensuring our grateful sentiments. You are our brothers and sisters. As a nation we are marching towards a destiny of hope.  We expect our leaders to be like our parents showing no discrimination based on creed or race.

As a church we assure that it will be a kind and merciful parent to those at the margins.  As a church we affirm our commitment to serve the migrants, refugees, IDPs, and those who are away from homes. God was the parent to Adam and Eve. God was the parent to the Jews who became slaves in Egypt. God was the father who sent his only son to redeem the world.  It is the same father, the Abba, protects us all today.

14712882_1602023203157376_6707209327185498717_oMarist Asia Foundation celebrates 10 years of supporting Burmese Migrants in Ranong in 2016 with Education, Health and Migrant Support Programmes. We are grateful to so many funding agencies, friends and supporters that allow us to show compassion in action and grow a positive hope for the future in the lives of young Burmese Migrants. 

University Education Partnership


Australian Catholic University (ACU) has partnered with Marist Asia Foundation since 2009 and is committed to providing Higher Education Opportunities for Burmese Migrants for the next 5 years.

Australian Catholic University has entered into a new partnership with Marist Asia Foundation to support Burmese Migrants gaining a University Education for the next 5 years.

ACU’s Thai Burma Border Programme, supporting Burmese Refugees and Migrants has been running for the past 10 years, but has partnered with Marist Asia Foundation since 2009.

This partnership has changed the lives of many young adult men and women who would otherwise never get a Higher Education in the Refugee camps or Migrant Worker communities.

Students in Ranong study online and with visiting lecturers  to complete their Arts and Liberal Studies Diploma. Courses include Academic English, International Development Studies, Youth Development, Introduction to Management, Global Health Challenges, Human Rights, Global Change and Development, Education for a Sustainable Future.

Fr Kevin Medilo, Director of Marist Asia Foundation, met recently with ACU staff in Sydney and shared how significant the University Online Diploma Programme is for the Migrant Community in Ranong on the Thailand Burma Border.

26 young leaders have graduated and become Teachers, Health Workers, Community Leaders. We have 12 current students and another 20 waiting to apply for the 2017 year.

The ACU Partnership is changing the education goals of the migrant community.

Young students are staying in school. Graduates are getting good jobs. Bright young confident Burmese Migrants are conscious of human rights and they are understanding the complex development needs of their home country in Myanmar.

Our University students are emerging as great role models and leaders for their community.


Students study Monday – Friday 1.30-4.00pm with their tutor Fr Frank Bird to complete their Diploma in a 20 month course aimed at developing Leaders and Teachers for the Burmese Migrant Community

Discussions also took place to plan together for the future, including investigation of a Teacher Training Diploma that can give the many young migrant teachers an opportunity to get recognised qualifications as teachers.

This is such a vital need on the Thailand Burma Border with hundreds of thousands of migrant and refugee children struggling to get an education and their teachers struggling to get recognition of their learning and teacher experience.

Marist Asia Foundation is delighted to deepen its education and funding partnership commitment with ACU and would like to express its great thanks to Professor Tania Aspland (Executive Dean), Professor Geraldine (Deputy Dean, Faculty of Education and Arts) and Kirk Doyle (International Partnerships) for the work on developing this Education Partnership.

Special thanks also to Teacher Maya, Co-ordinator of the Thai Burma Border Programme, whose great passion and encouragement toward our Migrant and Refugee students has encouraged so many to ‘aim higher’ for a brighter future with education.