Education of the poor
Historically the Society of Mary’s first works included education of the poor. In this spirit the Marist Mission Centre (MMC Australia) has supported hostel and further education projects in a number of border camps since 1998.
Hundreds of young people have been helped by these projects. But after finishing their camp high school education many either return to the risk of living with their families in Burma or leave to seek illegal livelihood in one or other of the border towns in Thailand.
All know that education is a key for people to lift themselves out of poverty, suppression and hopelessness – a situation common amongst those fleeing the violence of Burma.
Through Marist funding in 2004 a ground-breaking program of online studies for Karen refugee youth began with Australian Catholic University. The first graduations were in Apr 2006. The program continues to the present time with candidate selection in the hands of local coordinators and visiting ACU staff.
Graduation has put these young persons at significant advantage in resettling to English-speaking third countries or taking scholarship places in Thai and other universities. Others have returned to their people better equipped to play major roles in local community organisations.
Back in the camps
Meanwhile, in recent times, back in the camps and having exhausted their educational possibilities, some students have asked for help and advice about further steps in their education. They want to ‘bridge the gap’ between refugee camp education and tertiary studies.
The Bridge Program
In response to this, the Bridge Program was set up, a simple, online educational opportunity for eligible Burmese refugee youth.
BP’s hope is to 'bridge the gap' between Thai-Burma border post-10 refugee camp education and potential selection for online studies with participating universities internationally -- or other tertiary studies.
Since 2011 ‘BP-ers’ were Burmese refugee youth who had completed or were currently concluding post-10th standard education in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border.
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Some were selected on the basis of their participation and success in English competitions.
The program was inspired by these participants, some of whom have shown outstanding commitment to developing their English skills.
They are emerging as responsible and eager young adults with clear potential for tertiary education.
BP offers such motivated young people the chance to develop further skills in English language, personal self-management and communication to enhance their likelihood of selection for online studies.
The program provides help with printed resources, weekly online assignments and Internet access.
Enthusiastic Burmese refugee youth who apply to be considered will be asked to give evidence of above-average English skills as well as access to computer and Internet.
In mid-2011 the Bridge Program began to prepare students for selection for the next intake for ACU online studies. Interviews took place in early-mid 2012. Six BP-ers were selected for ACU's 2012-13 program, graduating in Nov 2013. Others have followed in subsequent programs.
This web site has been developed to accommodate the Bridge Program.
After an initial selection process and trial period participants are required to do two fortnightly assignments online, usually over a 20-week period, and to participate in weekly Group Skype Video Chats (GSVCs).
The program is supported by ‘BP friends’ in Australia and reports to the Australian Marist Province 'Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation' Committee.
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Earlier examples of other Marist initiatives in ‘bridging’
In each example Marist support has enabled young people to move into new areas of education and endeavour.
Woodlawn College’s aboriginal scholarships
This Marist tradition has helped numerous indigenous youngsters to bridge the gap between their limited home situations and high school and tertiary education.
Internal scholarship program, MMC Hostel, Maera Moo refugee camp
In 2005 & 2006 students presenting small scholarship proposals were provided with further resources and local tuition in English, art, music and handicrafts.
For many this meant bridging the gap between poor and successful results in high school.
AYDP (Asia-Pacific Youth Development Program)
Over several years these development workshops assisted young people from a number of S.E. Asian and Pacific countries to gain skills helping them move forward in personal self-management and leadership.
Numerous examples exist of fruitful application of these new skills in Thai-Burma border refugee organisations as well as Cambodian and Pacific agencies.
Karen and Karenni SOTY (Student of the Year) workshops
These Marist-initiated projects enabled peer identification of outstanding potential leaders in a number of refugee organisations, with support for them to assume leadership and management roles in ethnic and border organisations.
YODIFEE (Youth with Disabilities Foundation for Education and Employment, Takmao, Cambodia
In 1998 Marist Fathers’ funding enabled the establishment of the Marist Brothers’ Lavalla school for physically disabled primary school aged children, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Through a Marist Fathers’ initiative in 2002 the PELG program commenced (Program for Employment of Lavalla Graduates).
This later developed into YODIFEE, bridging the gap between Lavalla’s informal primary education to secondary education, work skills training and employment and the establishment of YODICRAFT.
Whilst the above examples are not part of the current Bridge Program, nevertheless
they inspire the 'bridging' vision of BP.