By Kate Evans, Senior Advisor ACU Foundation Australian Catholic University
While introducing the Migrant and Refugee Week parish resource, Bishop Gerard Hanna wrote "Faith and hope are inseparable in the hearts of many migrants, who deeply desire a better life and not infrequently try to leave behind the 'hopelessness' of an unpromising future." The ACU Thai-Burma Program aids in providing the hope for a brighter future through tertiary education. I hope to continue to illustrate this hope in this series of ACMRO newsletter articles.
In the last article (July 2013), my ACU colleagues and I had just left bright young urban refugees studying at the Bangkok Refugee Centre (BRC) to board tiny little propeller plans and flew into jungle of the Thai-Burma border. We were there to visit the ACU study centre in Mae Sot which caters to the Burmese refugees from primarily the Mae La and Umpiem Mai refugee camps.
This was my first trip to South-East Asia and I was blown-away by the beauty and the shear dichotomy of the region. There was such wealth juxtaposed with extraordinary poverty, I couldn't find the line that separated the two it all seamed to mingle like the sweet and savoury tastes found at the night markets. It was in this contrast that I met the Mae Sot ACU Refugee Program current students and graduates. The juxtaposition I had first witnessed in Bangkok has its future in Mae Sot, the camps and the markets are still around but so are modern motorways with a brand new Tesco-Lotus shopping mall just three kilometers from the Thai – Myanmar Friendship Bridge on the border. I would fully understand that inequality of old-world and the rush of modern economics later in the trip.
The ACU Thai-Burma Program students have come from extreme circumstances in either the refugee camps, in their home country or as differentiated migrants. Most are used to rote learning – a style where the information is given to the students; it is memorized, tested, and quickly forgotten. The ACU Thai-Burma Program provides these refugees and migrants a way of learning that challenges them to question the information they are being given utilising critical thinking skills that will better serve them in their future goals. Crystal (age 21), one of the refugees participating in the program has likened the ACU Thai-Burma Program to hope through her statement:
"The ACU program is like a precious bridge for me because when I lived in the camp I think that my life is in the darkness, I didn't see any light at all, however, after I joined this program the windows of my eyes started to change and I see more light coming in because the ACU Diploma is very official and I can pursue my dream of further university education. After I graduate from ACU I would like to work with the UN for two years and serve my people, my community and after that I would continue my master degrees."
Another current program student, Eugene (age 19), from the refugee camp taught himself to play the violin, cello and piano on borrowed instruments. On a loaned violin and cello bow, he treated us to impromptu concert of Vivaldi. He speaks with a slight British accent because he learned English by listening to the BBC and audio books like Harry Potter. This young man at only 19 is extremely articulate and driven looking towards environmental law as a career. He wishes to protect Burma's valuable natural resources. When Eugene, Crystal and this latest cohort of students graduates this November, they will be able to pursue their dreams as their hope comes in the form of a ACU Diploma in Liberal Studies.
Thank you, reader, for continuing to follow our journey documenting this valuable university educational program. In the next article we will stay in Mae Sot and I will tell of our visit into the Mae La refugee camp where a majority of the students are living before entering our program.
To learn more about the ACU Thai-Burma Program contact Kate via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 02 9739 2117.