Minmahaw school offers an intensive English program that serves disadvantaged migrants from Burma in Mae Sot, Thailand. It serves a multiethnic student body and aims to help them pursue further higher education. Never did I think that my time at Minmahaw this summer would redefine my notions of agency in personal struggles. Nor did I think that a world affairs class would help students tell more balanced stories about their lives and experiences.
“I have never taught a class before! I don’t even have a bachelor degree!” This was all I had written on a sheet of paper at the end of a brainstorming session.
I visited the school before my first class. My interactions with the students were so positive and encouraging. They are smart, curious, and passionate. I was so excited to teach them some of what I knew but I also was eager to learn from them. I wanted this to be an exchange experience rather than a conventional class setting where I would pretend to know it all and they would act like they understand it all.
Many of the Students before coming to Minmahaw never had the chance to get educated about the conflicts that surround them and affected their lives. History classes in Burma were mainly irrelevant to the conflict. Indeed, the educational program in Burma doesn’t acknowledge the existence of a conflict in the first place. This led many of the students to think of their personal and family problems in a discontinuous fashion from the political climate they were surrounded with.
On the first day of class, many students expressed their preference to have a more politics focused class. Coming from various backgrounds and minority groups, Minmahaw students are politically informed and aware. During night study, an evening time dedicated for homework and internet access, many students would be skimming news about Burma and international affairs. Many of them have a deep understanding of political ideologies and historical events in Burma specifically and the world generally.
Minmahaw provides its students with an opportunity to learn and think critically. One of its aims is educating future leaders in Burma.
In one class, we handled different types of conflict. Conflict over resources, over opportunities, and over ideas. The students recalled personal experiences in Burma. One of the students told the class a story about his family’s lands that were confiscated by the military. He was only 7 when his family lost all they had. After telling a sad story, the student went on to explain how the demonstrations arranged by farmers like his father, were a conflict with the Burmese regime over resources, land in this case.
One of the most inspiring traits of Minmahaw students is their willingness to tell their stories. I am hoping that this class will allow the students to narrate more balanced stories. Ones where they are not stupid agents of bad decisions, but rather subjects of an unfair system.
Our World affairs class was meant to help the students realize that they are not the sole narrators of their everyday struggles. I attempted to be part of a class that would help my students reconcile some of their personal problems and experiences as migrants with a broader more complicated political context that they had very little say in yet aspire to change and find resolutions for.