26 February 2017 : A newsletter of the Australian Jesuits

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Around the Works

A life-changing journey



Five years ago, a 17-year-old boy from Myanmar made a life-changing journey.


Students in TimorRicci left his home for the very first time, leaving behind his parents and three older siblings in their remote village near the Myanmar-China border. He travelled 400km to Taunggyi, the location of St Aloysius Gonzaga Institute of Higher Studies (SAG).


SAG, one of two Jesuit-run educational institutions in Myanmar, welcomed the young boy whose only previous education had been three months of rote-learning English with a well-intentioned but untrained local pastor.


Located in central Myanmar, SAG embraces students across many of the country's ethnically diverse states. The institute opened in 1998, providing educational opportunities to around 100 students.


With language training as a primary focus, the institute now supports more than 400 students to study English, the humanities and social science.


When Ricci stepped off the bus 400km from home, he was afraid. But soon the boarding house at SAG, a bunkhouse cabin in the college grounds, became his new home. The other students were in a similar position, an ethnically diverse group from many of Myanmar's states and divisions.


Ricci recalls being intrigued and enlightened when each was required to give a presentation to the class on their people and culture.


As fragile ceasefires were being negotiated among Myanmar's ethnic minorities and regions to end decades of civil war and state-sponsored division, other bonds were being formed among these young students and with their teachers.


Students at SAG study, live and work together. Their bonds are strengthened by the expectation that they share in the upkeep of the institute. The photo shows SAG students helping to paint and decorate one of their buildings.


Five years on, Ricci describes his days at SAG with enthusiasm: he names the teachers who were so important and supportive to him; he recalls what it meant to progress beyond superficial communication and set phrases to a sound understanding of English grammar.


He refers to the confidence and power that reading and writing have brought him. He knows this place will grow because 'people know this is a good place to learn'.


Parallel with his language studies at SAG, Ricci completed the core elements of a law degree. The university sector, deliberately undermined during the years of oppression, cannot offer much more to its students.


The institute has forged partnerships with a number of universities across Asia to ensure that young Myanmarese from diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to complete higher education.


In order to become a lawyer, Ricci will now move to 'chambering' (several years of supervised study, observation and case law under a practising lawyer) before being accredited.


He thinks about the future a great deal. 'I want to know what will happen and how I can help the people ... to see what's happening in different places he says. 'My intention is to work with the people, to help people.'


Ricci says that others in his generation feel the same way. 'My friends want to change the country', he says. He also acknowledges the role that SAG plays in helping young people to shape a better future for themselves.


'This place (SAG) will change our country … if the local people have education, they will change by themselves.'


Source: Jesuit Mission. Please consider donating to Jesuit Mission's Christmas Appeal 2016, and support its work to help people like Ricci create a better future for their country.



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