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February 2013 Update on the Thai Burma Border

A report from the Coordinator of the ACU Refugee Program on the Thai-Burma Border, Duncan MacLaren, who spent most of January 2013 teaching the unit DVST100 An Introduction to International Development Studies to the forty-eight refugee and migrant students in the three locations of the program – Mae Sot, Ranong and Bangkok (There are thirty-six students in Mae Sot, nine in Ranong and three refugee students from Pakistan based in the Bangkok Refugee Centre):
 
I began teaching our three Pakistani students at the Bangkok Refugee Centre soon after my arrival in Thailand's capital city. They had already completed two units for the Diploma in Liberal Studies from September to December 2012 – English Language Communication Skills in face-to-face mode with colleague Maya Cranitch and Global Environmental Change online with Assoc. Professor Robin Roth of York University, Toronto, Canada. As with all the students, they had found the units a challenge but completed both successfully because they share the same attitude to education as their Burmese peers – one of complete dedication and enthusiasm.
 
DVST 100 is part of the new Bachelor of International Development Studies degree on ACU Strathfield and Melbourne campuses and I taught it to Sydney first year students in semester 1 2012 and, along with a new colleague, will be doing so again this year. It is a unit which Burmese refugee leaders, interviewed by me in 2008, wanted their young people to study as the processes of community development are integral to their lives whether as refugees, political activists back in Burma or people who come from the vast rural areas of their country wracked by conflict for decades and still mired in poverty.
 
The Pakistani students who fled their homeland came from very different backgrounds but shared the same experience of persecution and poverty – and an enthusiasm for development studies. They had a natural affinity for the subject and used examples from Pakistan to illustrate their arguments. The partner organising the venue and logistics is Australian Augustinian Father, John Murray, and COERR – the Thai Bishops' Refugee Agency. We are grateful to the management of the Bangkok Refugee Centre for use of their facilities.
 
I then headed for Mae Sot where the largest student cohort lives. Most are refugees from the Mae La, Mae Ra Moo and Umpiem refugee camps and many have been educated in the camps. One, aged 22, was even born in the camp. They all live in two houses in a location near Mae Sot and the larger of the two houses is also the study centre. The other students are former refugees who now work for the many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) peppering Mae Sot.  
 
After an initial introduction, the first exercise was to draw a 'mind map' where the word 'development' is placed in the centre of a flipchart sheet and then connections made from their knowledge and experience. What they presented in groups was sophisticated, relevant and displayed the fear that the kind of 'development' to be ushered in by the American, Australian and European businessmen and women streaming into the 'new' Burma of reforms was going to be exploitation of the people under a different guise but one more palatable to Western governments.
 
The group was lively and articulate and I am looking forward to receiving their research essays which should contain more of the insights they displayed while I was teaching them. They have been graced with a new tutor – Professor Rosaleen Smyth, an Australian who lectured most recently at Divine Word University, Madang, Papua New Guinea and who comes to the program courtesy of the Sydney-based volunteer sending agency, Palms.
 
I then went to Ranong where the group of nine students consists of two refugees and the others are migrants – young people whose parents came to the fishing town for work and who have struggled to be granted papers to avoid their being arrested as illegals. This is another lively group who had already started the unit since their tutor, Leigh McMaster from New Zealand, has a degree in international development studies.
 
All the students will complete their assignments by the end of February, ready to start a new unit, Leadership Theory, to be taught online by Dr Michael Pagano who lectures at Fairfield University, Connecticut.

By Duncan MacLaren, Coordinator

August 2012 Graduations

Executive Dean Professor Gail Crossley graduated a total of 37 refugee and migrant Burmese students on August 4 in Mae Sot and August 7 in Ranong. Read more about the event on the Faculty News site.

Expanding Accountability Options for Grave Violations: Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) statement to the UN Security Council

On 9 July 2012, KHRG's Field Director and ACU graduate from the Thai Burma border, Saw Albert, addressed the UN Security Council during an Arria formula meeting in New York City. KHRG's presentation was framed by the Action Plan signed by the Government of Myanmar in Yangon on 27 June 2012 to end the use and recruitment of child soldiers by Tatmadaw armed forces by 2014. During this statement, KHRG stressed the need for a responsive and accessible accountability mechanism for grave violations perpetrated against children in armed conflict that prioritises local perspectives and addresses existing impunity for perpetrators. In acknowledging that international leverage can help create space for communities' own protection strategies and ability to hold perpetrators to account, KHRG also urges support for the development of strong domestic legal frameworks and institutions that will contribute to accountability at the local level.
For more information, visit KHRG's website
See also From the Burmese jungle to NYC (Feature story, ACU Insight magazine, Issue 8, 2013)

More information

ACU has been offering tertiary education to Burmese refugee students living in the camps since 2004. The project has so far concentrated on service delivery of a Diploma in Business, a Certificate in Theology and the current Diploma in Liberal Studies which covers a range of subjects relevant to the refugee situation.

The course is taught through a mix of online tutoring, use of distance learning materials and face-to-face tutoring. The current Diploma is being offered in conjunction with three Jesuit universities from the United States (Gonzaga, Regis and Fairfield) and York University in Toronto, Canada. The program was awarded 'Best Collaborative International Project' at the prestigious Business Higher Education Round Table Awards (B-Hert) in 2008 and gained the Vice-Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Community Engagement in 2010.

The results of the 2010-2012 cohort evaluation were "overwhelmingly positive" with 100 per cent of the students saying they had enjoyed learning! The vast majority agreed that they had achieved the ACU Graduate Attributes that measure personal development and expressed satisfaction with the course content, organisation and delivery. They stressed that the resident tutors were an essential element, one student saying that "without tutors, I would have just collapsed!" After completing their last unit, some students wrote how life-changing the Diploma course had been. One staff member wrote, "these students were a daily reminder for me of what really matters and were inspirational in their commitment to their education. Bringing their voices and experiences into my classroom (which I hope to do more of next year) also serves to educate our students here (in Canada)".

In 2009, research was carried out to ascertain how past graduates had used their qualifications – whether their studies had benefited the refugee community (if they stayed in the camps) or the community in diaspora (if they had been resettled to a third country). In other words, how have their studies contributed to the common good? The result showed that all the students who remained on the Thai-Burma border worked for refugees by organising a bewildering array of social services. Among the jobs were: managing an orphanage in a refugee camp, training young people in leadership and management, working for an organization that documented human rights abuses within Burma, teaching in camp schools and working for UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency. The three who were resettled in either Australia or the USA used their ACU qualification to enter university in their host countries and gained scholarships. The conclusion was that these students, who had graduated under unimaginable circumstances, had, in the words of the ACU graduate attributes, recognised "their responsibility to the common good".

The first cohort studying for the Diploma in Liberal Studies graduated in August 2010.

Page last updated: 15 Dec 2015

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