During the recent summer holiday, eight students and two teachers from St Patrick’s College Wellington went on a two-week school trip to visit the Marist mission in Ranong, Thailand.
The purpose of this trip was to experience what life is like for Burmese migrants, see Marist faith in action and teach English to the students attending the school run by the Marist Asia Foundation.
Ranong sits on the border of Thailand and Myanmar.
Many people in Myanmar find themselves without sufficient work. They cross Myanmar’s porous borders in search of better conditions. Those in the south of Myanmar often cross into Thailand.
The volunteers from Wellington discovered the tension between the Burmese people and the Thai government.
Burmese people – including students – have to carry their passports with them in case they are stopped by Thai officers.
One of the volunteers, Benjamin Prendergast, said the students they taught were the privileged ones, able to attend school instead of working to support their families.
One student, Wine Min Htet, would travel two hours home after school, spend half an hour eating dinner, then startb a six-hour shift on a rubber plantation.
“That shows me how easy my life is compared to theirs, yet he’s still so happy,” Prendergast said.
Teacher Maurice Atkinson helped organise the trip. He and his wife had lived in Thailand for two years, both of them teaching, and knew the impact that seeing life there could have on the St Patrick’s students.
“I thought it would be a really good idea to give New Zealand teenagers an experience of what life was like for teenagers in a different part of the world.”
Now that they’re back at school, the teenagers are determined to advocate for the Burmese students they met on their trip, whether that’s sponsoring the costs of schooling and transport for one student ($20 a month) or fundraising to bring in extra teachers.