Jasmine Siu, a fresh graduate of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre’s Bachelor of Journalism programme, is passing on what she learned at the JMSC by teaching media literacy to Burmese refugees this summer in Mae Sot, a town on the Thailand-Burma border.
Siu is one of forty students from the University of Hong Kong who have been working in Burma (also known as Myanmar) and Thailand as part of the summer volunteer program run by Connecting Myanmar, a student project at HKU that aims to provide young Burmese refugees with skills that will help them attain “a sustainable livelihood.”
The program, which lasts for 10 weeks, includes human rights law research, English instruction, sustainable farming, and building playgrounds and schools. Siu conducts media training workshops for 36 students, four days a week, along with Wai-Ling Lee, a Bachelor of Social Work student.
The workshops begin with an introduction to journalism: what is news, what is mass media, how to read and analyze news stories, how to conduct an interview, and how to write articles and profiles. Topics like multimedia, photography, TV broadcasting, and online media are also covered.
“Hopefully at the end of the program (in mid-August) the students will be able to write news stories, both features and hard news,” Siu said.
According to Edward Tsoi, the founder of Connecting Myanmar, the summer volunteer program is designed to help build a sense of community for Burmese who find themselves by circumstance in a foreign country. Learning how to use media to communicate is one way to do that, and it can also help the refugees express their concerns to outsiders who are deciding their fate, he said.
“Many of these children or youth have been waiting [in Mae Sot] for a long, long time for outsiders or the UN to tell them … their future,” Tsoi said. “I hope this program can empower them to communicate … so that they can use their own voice to say what they want, and to have a say in their own future.”
Siu said that the stories she is trying to help the refugees tell are both fascinating and confusing.
“Some of the things [the refugees] tell me are different from what I read in western media,” Siu said. “For instance, on the current religious conflict between the Buddhists and Muslims. This gives me the motivation to help them write better in English, so that they can tell their version of the story to the world and help us understand Myanmar.”
She said that experience has been an eye-opener for her.
“Living in Hong Kong, it’s impossible to imagine what life is like at refugee camps, or what it is like to leave everything behind and flee for another country with dim hope of a bright future, or any future for that matter,” Siu said. “And it’s not until I see these people that it felt real, pressing, and urgent.”
[Click below to hear Siu interview Connecting Myanmar founder Edward Tsoi on Bonham Wednesdays, a JMSC student-run radio show.]