A Field Trip to Myanmar

A Field Trip to Myanmar

Our Programs Coordinator Christine O’Halloran spent the end of 2017 travelling through Thailand and Myanmar, visiting volunteers and partner communities to discuss their need for volunteers. She’s shared some of the highlights from her trip below.

Ten days in Myanmar is certainly not enough time to truly come to know a country’s people, environment or culture; it is but a glimpse!

The purpose of the trip was firstly to meet our volunteer, Professor Rosaleen Smyth, who is working on the Thai/Burma border as a tutor for students who are enrolled in the Australian Catholic University’s online and (face-to-face) Diploma in Liberal Arts. The students are from varying ethnicities within the refugee camps along the Thai side of the border. Rosaleen has been assisting the various student cohorts since 2013, and completion of this internationally recognised Diploma has enabled students to find jobs with community-based organisations such as the Karen Human Rights Group or international NGOs/UN organisations such as UNHCR. Some students have gone on to do further studies either in Thailand or overseas. For those who were resettled in a third country, their improved English and internationally-recognised qualification stood them in good stead to find meaningful employment.

Christine with volunteer Rosaleen and her female students in Mae Sot, Thailand.
Christine with volunteer Rosaleen and her female students in Mae Sot, Thailand.

After meeting with Rosaleen and her students, we left Thailand across the ‘Friendship Bridge’ crossing into Myawaddy, and travelling through rural Myanmar to the city of Mawlamyine, the capital of Mon State. We met with Bishop Raymond Saw Po Ray and Fr Augustine Shwe to discuss the training and mentoring needs in education, agriculture and business/livelihood sectors within their community, which is made up of different ethnic minorities living in the Archipelago of Myeik (Mergui). The Diocese of Mawlamyine supports a number of local initiatives and has identified areas where skill development will help to increase and enable employment opportunities for locals.

A highlight in the meeting process was the representation from various local community groups who came to share and articulate ways in which Palms Australia’s volunteers could develop their skills. The collaborative and consultative approach that was encouraged and supported by Bishop Raymond demonstrated the genuine intention to bring opportunities to those who have been marginalised and risk being left behind in a very quickly changing political, social and economic context.

Elizabeth, Roger & Christine meeting with teachers in Myeik.
Elizabeth, Roger & Christine meeting with teachers in Myeik.

We experienced a similar exchange in our meeting with the Pathein Diocese. Pathein is located in the Irrawaddy Delta, 120km west of Yangon. The Ayeyarwady Region is a key area for rice production, and rice plays an important role in Myanmar’s economy. Agricultural initiatives outlined by the Diocese included the introduction and development of vocational training for young people in organic, sustainable farming practices. This includes the growing of vegetables and fruits for domestic and commercial use. The intention is that young people will have local employment opportunities that will generate income, making it possible for them to remain in their local areas, rather than having to move to urban areas for employment.

Staff room at St. Alberts, Myeik
Staff room at St. Alberts, Myeik

In Pathein, volunteers are also required in education roles. St John’s College is a middle school that enrols students from all ethnicities and faiths. It was inspiring to hear the Principal (Coral) talk about the importance of all faiths being accepted and respected. Students from various faith backgrounds are provided with a space within the school to practice their faith at the beginning of the day, and then all students come together for classes.

The meetings in Pathein included Fr Henry Eikhlein (Director of KMSS – Caritas) and Bishop John Hsane Hgyi’s presentation of the Socio Pastoral Program Diocesan Strategic Plan (2018-2022), that has just recently been drafted after extensive consultation with 2000 households within 36 parishes. Staff representing each of the sectors shared their understandings of how Palms Australia’s volunteers could help to build staff capacity in education, youth programs, agriculture and organisational development.

At this meeting, I was delighted to meet two former students of Rosaleen’s who graduated from the ACU Diploma of Liberal Arts (Victoria and Robben) and are now employed by the Diocese of Pathein.

Victoria and Robben
Victoria and Robben at the Pathein Diocese

We have some incredible positions available for specialists in education, agriculture, business, organisational development, carpentry and mechanics. If you have skills to share and would like to experience living and working in this beautiful part of the world, I encourage you to take a look at our current opportunities.