Our Volunteers: Rosaleen Smyth volunteering at the Thai/Burma border

Australian Catholic University, Thailand

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.

Rosaleen Smyth

Rosaleen SmythPalms 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.

A Day Well Spent in Mae Sot

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-

grad eitha Mee, Aung Myat, Maybel

Graduates Eh Tah Mee, Aung Aung Myat and Maybel Htoo with Rosaleen

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.

ACU Speeches

Fr Chawin’s speech at the Ceremony

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.


Dances performed by the Minmahaw School

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”!

grad singers-cropped

Liberating Movement

May 14, 2013

Dr Rosaleen Smyth is currently in her second placement with Palms, having previously volunteered in Tanzania. She is now at the Thai Burma border tutoring refugees in their tertiary studies.

Click here to read the full article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Donate Online

Donating online offers you a completely secure and easy way to support our work.

To donate to support Rosaleen Smyth's placement in Mae La, please use the form below. If you would like to make a general donation to Palms Australia, please use our dedicated donation page.

Make a recurring donation

Amount: $
Tax Deductible?
Alert Rosaleen Smyth of my gift?

Make a one-off donation

Amount: $
Tax Deductible?
Alert Rosaleen Smyth of my gift?

About your donation

Recurring donations will be deducted on a regular basis, until Palms Australia or Paypal is notified to stop. Upon clicking "Donate", you will be forwarded to an external site, hosted by Paypal, to securely transmit your credit card or paypal account details. Please check the form on the next page to confirm the transaction details are correct. In this instance, Palms Australia does not handle your credit card details but will receive notification of your contact details.

Your donation will be placed towards the costs of sending and supporting Rosaleen Smyth as a volunteer in Mae La. In the event that monies are raised above the amount required, Palms Australia will use them to support the placement of other volunteers. For more information contact Palms Australia.

If you have selected to alert the volunteer of your donation we will send them a note with your name, email and (if selected) the amount of your gift.

Donate by Post/Fax

You can download and print a donation form and return it to us by post/fax with your cheque, money order or credit card details.

Donate by Phone

Or call us on (02) 9560 5333 to make a donation by phone. THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING OUR WORK!


Population: 68,069,923

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 […]

More on Thailand

Donate to support Rosaleen Smyth's work

I am able to make a donation of $_________;      Monthly      Quarterly      Yearly            Once Only

Debit my      Visa or      Mastercard OR      Find enclosed Cheque/Money Order (made out to Palms Overseas Fund).

Card No: __ __ __ __     __ __ __ __     __ __ __ __     __ __ __ __     Expiry Date: ____/____

Signature: ____________________________________     I require a receipt     

Send my CommUNITY News to me (name) ______________________________ at (street) ____________________________________

(suburb)_____________________________ (p/code) _____________ OR email ________________________________________________

Please post with payment to: Rosaleen Smyth - CommUNITY, PO Box 3109, PETERSHAM NORTH NSW 2049
Should funds be raised in excess of the amount required to place Rosaleen Smyth, they will be used to assist place other volunteers in similar positions.

The key to community is the acceptance, in fact the celebration of our individual and cultural differences. It is also the key to world peace. - M. Scott Peck