There are over 360,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand alone and many more in other countries. Over one third of these refugees are restricted to refugee camps near the border of Burma. Some have been there for over 20 years.
The majority of refugees simply wish to return home without fear of persecution. Alternative “durable solutions” are integrating into their host country (in this case, Thailand) or being resettled to a third country, such as Australia. Given the continued rule by the junta in Burma, the political realities in Thailand relating to refugees and the small number of resettlement places available annually, for most people these solutions seem unlikely.
Recognising the challenges facing such communities, including a lack of skills and the “brain drain” resulting from resettlement countries giving preference to educated refugees, ACU offered an online Diploma in Liberal Studies to refugees in the camps. Students complete subjects in business, technology, communication, leadership, anthropology, human rights, sociology and politics. With this education, the students will be better equipped to improve the lives of their communities.
Of course distance education is difficult, particularly in a cross-cultural and remote context. ACU sought a volunteer tutor from Palms Australia to liaise between teachers and students and assist students with their English and study skills.
Palms Australia recruited Rosaleen Smyth in January 2013 to work for ACU on the Thai/Burma. She works closely with refugees, assisting with English and communications technology and facilitating better communication with their lecturers. This has enabled students who have lived most of their lives in camps to complete studies on-line. Several have graduated through Rosaleen’s mentoring and guidance. Additionally Rosaleen has established links between the students and other education agencies in the region such as Thabyay , Prospect Burma and universities such as Hong Kong Institute of Education.
Rosaleen has over 30 years experience in teaching, lecturing and research, including a PhD in African History, and the Australian public service, specifically in Indigenous Affairs.
She has previously volunteered with Palms Australia in Tanzania and has worked in PNG, Samoa, Zambia, United Kingdom, Sudan, Australia, Fiji, United Arab Emirates and Taiwan.
She has been described as having “great integrity of character” and her ability to relate and communicate across cultures have been highly praised. Rosaleen has formed excellent relationships at Mae Sot through her high respect for the students and care for their well-being. Her presence in the community is highly valued.
June 15, 2015
“The graduation ceremony for the Australian Catholic University (ACU) Diploma in Liberal Studies was held in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma Border on May 23, 2015. Professor Geraldine Castleton, Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Education at ACU gave the formal address and presented the testamurs. Others in the platform party were the parish priest, Fr. Chawin Sangiam Kaew, the Diploma’s Coordinator, Maya Cranitch, ACU lecturer, Aisling O’Donnell, Kim Roberts from the Department of Geography at York University in Toronto, and resident tutor, Professor Rosaleen Smyth (Palms Australia volunteer).”
-So reads the formal introduction. Prof Rosaleen Smyth has volunteered in Mae Sot on the Thai/Burma border since 2013, assisting refugee students to complete their studies online through a special Diploma in Liberal Arts offered by ACU. A highlight for everyone – students, lecturers and the whole community- is the sense of achievement at Graduation! Rosaleen continues-
It is a thrilling event for the students and their families and friends, a real rite of passage, marking a further step upwards in their fight to access tertiary education.
At the start of the ceremony some of the graduating students stepped to the front and welcomed guests in different ethnic languages, an inclusive touch. Maya acted as MC and a graduate from the previous cohort, Seesarnono, interpreted the formal speeches in Burmese for the benefit of many non-English speaking relatives and friends. Maya read a message from the previous Coordinator, Duncan McLaren, Professor Castleton delivered the formal address, then two students one male and one female, elected by the students addressed the audience. They collaborated in the writing of the speech which was delivered in English by Saw Than Min Htun and in Burmese by Lin Myat Kyu. Both students have won scholarships to the Hong Kong Institute of Education together with last year’s student graduation speaker, Eugene Sein; They will all commence their studies in Hong Kong in September this year.
The official graduation ceremony followed. Professor Castleton presented the testamurs individually to the students. The tutor said a few congratulatory words, emphasising that now was the time for this year’s ACU graduates to go out and act, and the MC announced that the formal ceremony had concluded. The students sang a couple of songs, with guitar and drum accompaniment prior to the departure of the academic procession.
Then came some traditional dancing exquisitely performed by students from Minmahaw school followed by photos, photos, photos…the all important pictorial record, as the academics mingled with the friends, relatives and newly minted graduates. Finally, after all those photo opportunities, everyone went to lunch. A day well spent.
What a buzz! Many of us will recall the collective HIGH of our graduations! See the Palms facebook page for more of those “photos, photos, photos”!
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Area: 513,120 sq. km.
Median Age: 33.3
Literacy: 92.6 %
Languages: Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects
Thailand, located in South East Asia, has experienced profound growth over the last decade. This has been partly due to tourism, but also its investment and trade policies. There are still a large number of poor in Thailand, particularly in rural areas. The poorest though are no doubt the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking […]