The March 2013 headlines from Burma (Myanmar) and on the border with Thailand include “Myanmar Riots Claim The Lives of 20 People” and “Fire kills dozens at refugee camp in Thailand”. Meanwhile the public perception of the current situation is that violence in Burma is subsiding. The reality is quite different as it will take years of peaceful positive political and societal reform before stabilisation will be seen in the conflict-riddled South-east Asian nation.
Despite the intense fighting occurring in the Kachin State in the northern region of Burma there is still hope. The Australian Catholic University (ACU) has had a small influence in that spark for the future. Francis, a young Burmese migrant, is a recent graduate from the ACU Refugee Program on the Thai-Burma Border and has returned home to the Kachin capital of Myitkyina. As fighting in the region continues, Francis still sees the positive, “As you know the situation was terrible here but now a bit better,” he said in February.
Francis earned a Diploma in Liberal Studies awarded by ACU, a registered Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students (CRICOS) provider. Since 2004, the ACU Refugee Program has been providing tertiary education to young displaced persons. It also gives the hope of a future to these young refugees and migrants, like Francis.
Francis studied with the ACU program in the Thai city of Ranong on the sea border with Burma. Francis and his fellow students were put through English competency testing and multiple interviews before they were accepted into the program. ACU partnered with the Marist Mission Ranong (MMR) through the Marist Fathers to provide a space with computers and internet so that the program students could not only receive face-to-face lectures but online courses from one Canadian university, York University (Ontario), and three US universities – Regis (Colorado), Gonzaga (Washington) and Fairfield University (Connecticut). The refugees and migrants study, amongst other subjects, leadership theory, psychology, international human rights law and development studies.
The Kachin capital, Myitkyina, is not an easy place come home to. Burmese government forces and the Kachin Independence Army began fighting again in 2011 and it has continued despite a ceasefire this year. However, Francis took the opportunity of his ACU education return to Myitkyina and help his fellow Kachin. He opened a school to teach English using the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Francis currently has 70 students that range from NGO staff, doctors, and professionals to university students. He is enjoying teaching and being with his family. “The education and knowledge from ACU have been a massive help for my teaching as well as to grow stronger and better in my life,” stated Francis.
Francis would like to attend ACU to study for the Bachelor of International Development Studies degree in Australia. Unfortunately, university costs are extremely high for international students and become almost prohibitive for refugees and migrants from war-torn regions. Let us hope that Francis continues his positive outlook and is able to continue his studies at ACU.
If you would like to learn more about the ACU Refugee Program on the Thai-Burma Border or to discuss supporting students like Francis please visit www.acu.edu.au/thai-burma