ACU International Staff member Stuart Parker pictured with Fr Frank Bird and students from the Marist Mission in Ranong.
For ACU International staff member Stuart Parker, a recent trip to ACU’s Learning Centre at the Marist Mission in Ranong, Thailand, was one of the “most inspiring teaching experiences” he’s ever had.
Stuart visited the mission in February in order to administer the entrance test for local students wanting to enroll in ACU’s Diploma in Liberal Studies, a suite of humanities -based undergraduate offerings from the National School of Arts.
The Diploma is offered through ACU’s Thai-Burma program, which provides Australian tertiary level education and qualifications to refugees and economic migrants living along the Thai-Burma border.
Ranong is a significant Thai-Burma border province, located opposite Burma’s southern-most town, and a major border crossing for Myanmar migrants into Thailand.
Many Burmese people live in the region, arriving in Thailand as refugees escaping decades-long conflict and persecution in Myanmar, or as migrants forced to leave Myanmar to find work and a better life.
The Burmese community in Ranong and other parts of Thailand face significant challenges. Burmese refugees and migrants in Ranong are susceptible to exploitation and abuse, often working in incredibly harsh conditions, with low incomes and little opportunities for medical assistance or legal protections.
Education is one of the only ways the Burmese refugees and migrants can escape these circumstances, but access to education is also extremely limited. Burmese refugees and migrants are not allowed to attend formal education in Thailand.
The Marist Mission in Ranong provides education to many members of the Burmese community, from kindergarten through to high school, and offers one of the few opportunities to access tertiary education for Burmese migrants and refugees, through ACU’s Thai-Burma program.
ACU has been working with the mission to deliver the ACU Diploma program since 2009. The program combines online and face-to-face learning, with ACU staff visiting the centre to teach.
Stuart explained that the program is well-known and highly thought of in the area and many students had been waiting and preparing a long time to take the test when he visited last month.
“It’s a really hard part of the world and to give them some kind of chance is extremely worthwhile. The language level is generally very good and many students have hopes of getting jobs in business or becoming teachers,” Stuart said.
Among the biggest needs in the area are education and social welfare and many of the ACU diploma graduates use their knowledge and English skills to try to address these issues within their own communities.
One particular graduate had been working in a pharmacy ten hours a day as a twelve year old because her parents could not afford to send her to school. A sponsor, however, was found by the Marist Mission, enabling her to attend high school and she went on to complete the ACU Diploma of Liberal Studies. She is now working with the United Nation’s Migration Agency, assisting the victims of human trafficking and inhumane working conditions.
Some 22 candidates took the entrance test while Stuart was in Ranong, with 16 successfully meeting the entrance requirements for the Diploma in Liberal Studies.
The opportunity to study ACU’s Diploma in Liberal Studies is also offered to Burmese refugees living in refugee camps in the north-west border region of Thailand.
ACU’s Thai-Burma Program is funded by ACU and our generous sponsors. You can support the ACU Thai-Burma program through the new ACU Staff Giving program. Visit www.acu.edu.au/staffgiving to learn more.