Youth supporting Youth: The Mae Sot Education Project
Ever since the military took control of Burma in 1962, more than a million people have been forced from their homelands to seek refuge in Thailand. Living on the fringe of society, these individuals, especially the youth, have shown strength and determination to learn and build a better future for themselves and their country. Inspired by this resolve, the Mae Sot Education Project (MSEP) was born in 2003 with the mission to provide support to the Burmese through the education of migrant and refugee children to help them create a free, democratic, and inclusive society.
Since its inception, MSEP has been run in its entirety by dedicated volunteers from the Sherbrooke community, and has sent over 66 Bishop’s and Champlain students to volunteer on site. Although their assistance in teaching English is a key objective, it is not the primary one. It is the human connections forged between these youths of different nations through the entire experience that really give the project its value. In honour of World Humanitarian Day and the individuals dedicated to making a difference, we reached out to past and present volunteers Megan Irving and Anne-Constance Blanchette.
Bishop’s alum Megan Irving is the embodiment of the MSEP’s mission. Having volunteered twice during her undergrad, Irving has been living in Mae Sot ever since her graduation. She is now the director of the Parami Learning Centre, helps manage an occupational training center, and works with the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar in their Migrant, Child Labour and Domestic Worker Department. After 8 years of being in Mae Sot, she is humbled to be a part of her students’ journeys, seeing some, “who I taught in grades 7 and 6 the first year I arrived now attending university. I have a heightened appreciation for the power of education especially in how it can change the lives of those born into challenging circumstances.” Life in Mae Sot is far from ordinary. Amidst the harsh realities of poverty, human rights abuses, and a history of ethnic fighting, she explains that, “enjoying the work, and developing a deep appreciation and pride for the children and families around us…that’s the easy (and also the best) part of every day.” Irving took the, “opportunity to shine light on some of the innovative practices that have evolved and are taking place in Mae Sot,” and published an article on migrant education in Forced Migration Review along with Mary Purkey, MSEP’s Project Coordinator.
As you read this article, Bishop’s student Anne-Constance Blanchette is hard at work teaching in Mae Sot along with two Champlain students. Leaving the familiarity of home, Blanchette has been humbled by the welcoming and caring nature of the Burmese and Thai people, most of all her students. “I quickly realized that I was not the only one teaching; my students were educating me just as much. They have such big dreams in life and their backgrounds make it hard for them to achieve them, but they are determined to make a change.” Although she has only been in Mae Sot for 2 months so far, Blanchette has already felt the profound effects of her experience; “This definitely makes me want to go back home and make a difference. Help others in the ways that I can and be more selfless. This trip isn’t over yet, but I can already tell that my lessons and experiences here will follow me throughout my life.” Her advice for students looking at volunteering for the MSEP? “Don’t dwell, just say yes. The experience and maturity you gain from this project is so enriching.”
For more information or to donate, visit https://maesot.ubishops.ca
Special thanks to Mary Purkey for her helpful insight.