A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Marists in Ranong – Critical Times

Fr Frank Bird

Our Marist Mission in Ranong, Thailand, has been supporting Burmese Migrant children and families since 2006. In early September we have had some challenges that remind us just how vulnerable Burmese Migrants are. An order was issued from the Department of Labour in Bangkok to search and scan all 10 Burmese Migrant Learning Centres in Ranong. 32 Burmese Migrant Teachers were arrested and deported.

With the 9 other Migrant Learning Centres, we closed our Preschool and Secondary Education Programmes to protect and keep our Burmese staff safe from the possibility of arrest.

Sadly, about 3,000 Burmese children have now been without the opportunity to go to school for the past 2 weeks. Marist Asia Foundation has around 15 staff and 3 International Volunteers helping 75 pre-school children and around 100 teenagers get a brighter future with education.

As we closed our doors, we went visiting homes and sitting with parents and students, listening to their stories. Migrant Parents are struggling not being able to go work as their children cannot go to school. Some children are simply locked inside while parents go to work. Some children wander the streets, are exposed to the dangers of fish factories, child labour, trafficking, prostitution. We face a real crisis.

After 12 years of serving the Burmese Migrant Community we can now see the trust that has been established between migrant families and Marist Asia Foundation. Our Marist Centre has been the recent focal point for a number of important people connected with Advocacy and support of Migrant Education in Ranong. We have hosted the European Ambassador along with senior officials from International Organisation for Migration (IOM). All the Head Teachers of the 10 Migrant learning Centres have come frequently to meetings at the Marist Centre to discuss our challenges together. In the past week the Marist Centre hosted a meeting with the Director of Labour and other NGOs seeking to resolve this education crisis and return the children to school.

Marist Asia Foundation was invited to speak at a gathering of officials in Bangkok from the United Nations including IOM, Save The Children, Unesco, Unicef, Help Without Frontiers, European Union, Myanmar Embassy staff. They wanted us to give a report on the ‘Ranong Raid’ as it has come to be called. A big problem is that Migrant Learning Centres are not recognised in law and neither are Burmese migrants technically allowed to be teachers, as it is a special reserved category of work unavailable to Burmese migrants. Yet Migrant Learning Centres play a vital role in supporting education of the most vulnerable migrant children. There are over 75 Migrant Learning Centres supporting about 17,000 children. There are an estimated 200,000 Burmese migrant children currently not in any education programme.

As we work shoulder to shoulder with our migrant families, we know that Burmese children need Burmese teachers. We have been greatly blessed with support, talented staff and volunteers, and seen the fruits of education. There are more than 24 graduates of our education programmes teaching in the community.

We ask for your prayers and support as we continue to dialogue with the government in order to find a way to get our children back into the classroom. We have seen the transformation literally in front of our eyes; charcoal children transformed with the gift of education to become leaders and teachers in their communities. Please pray that as the Marist Mission works on the edges in Ranong we can accompany our migrant families with Mary’s compassion and strength. Education truly is the greatest gift that can be given to a migrant community. Education gives brighter futures.  

Source:  Marist Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation blog

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