Another Visit to Mae Ra Moe Refugee Camp, December 2016

I returned to Mae Ra Moe Refugee Camp in December 2016 to partake in some research for my final 50 points of the Master of Teaching at the University of Melbourne.

Using Anti-Oppressive and Critical Pedagogy frameworks and drawing on the works of Kumashiro, McLaren, Giroux, Freire, Beckett, McCarthy and Hooks, I wrote a ten lesson unit with the intention of having students engage with large issues using mostly an embodied process.

As a Drama educator, I wanted to try something different this year, and that was to have students navigate meaning through social learning in a physical way. In my mind I knew that I already wanted to focus my attention on the empowerment of the girls and women in my classes and to address themes of war and nationalism, friendship and family, gendered violence, climate change, and community. Having previous experience with the students of High School No. 1 I knew what to prepare for - and the lead up to my trip  was spent creating resources, buying and testing technology which I was to bring, and furthering my research of Karen culture and women's issues in Karen communities. I contacted my friends at Karen Women's Organisation, Mae Sariang and had them send me resources for their women's rights classes and I used these resources to gauge a larger social and cultural context for which to plan my lessons.

Similar to the previous year, I used a cycle of praxis for my teaching. I drew on educational theories such as Kumashiro's "Teaching to the margins of your classroom" where the educator enacts a reflective approach of constantly asking themselves "Who am I not teaching to? Who is being missed?" and adjusting their practice accordingly. I found that the boys would burst to life in my classes, grabbing risky activities by the horns, whereas the girls remained shy, self-conscious and quiet. I draw on feminist educational theorists such as Bell Hooks and used experience as the basis for learning, moving away from canonical knowledge. In doing so I aimed to expose the role of race, class, gender and power relationships. I focussed on creating spaces where the female students could work together with security and confidently to construct collaborative meaning and using scenarios depicting issues that related to them, such as the role of women in their community, violence against women, care-taking, marriage, leadership and parenthood. The girls were encouraged to talk about their fears and aspirations and the inequalities that they experienced and how it affected their lives. One student, Bo Pa, spoke about being unable to play as a child because she was kept in by her mother's side to complete domestic duties whilst her brothers went to the football field with their friends.

All the student, much to my surprise, were generally thrilled to engage in embodied learning. As their classrooms are not built for movement, I had to get creative and often take them out to find a space just outside of the school's walls where they could move freely. Members of the community then took an interest in the classes and came to watch, laughing at and pointing as the students created powerful performance pieces exploring these larger themes.

After Mae Ra Moe I took a further week long trip into Karen State where the Karen people come from. It lies on the edges of Myanmar, up against the river that borders with Thailand. There, resources are even more scarce and students must work to earn a livelihood outside of school and face brutalisation by the Burmese military.

When I return to Mae Ra Moe in December 2017, I hope to continue my focus on the empowerment of women and girls and to further engage with other aid organisations to create richer learning content to promote constructivist learning.

An embodied lesson, Mae Ra Moe Refugee Camp

A drama lesson taking place outside the classroom, Mae Ra Moe Refugee Camp

Impromptu nursery school teaching in Day Bu Noh, a village where many of the refugees of Mae Ra Moe come from in their home of Karen State, Myanmar

Female students from Day Bu Noh Highschool, Karen State

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