A multidisciplinary team of 20 RMIT students travelled to Myanmar recently to undertake research in rural and remote communities, as part of a global intensive program.
Students were hosted by ActionAid, an international non-government organisation in Yangon, Myanmar, where they had the opportunity to visit rural and remote villages to learn more about participatory community development.
Students had the opportunity to talk with young people in the Dry Zone in central Myanmar, who are working with ActionAid to make positive changes for their community.
Myanmar’s Dry Zone is home to 58 million people, almost a third of the country’s entire population. The majority of the people living in these areas rely on agriculture for a living, but experience erratic weather and poor soil quality.
RMIT Program Director of the Master of Social Work, Susan Costello, and Associate Professor Roberto Guevara, accompanied the students overseas.
“The students were engaged in qualitative research to gain an understanding of the current situation in Myanmar,” Costello explained.
“Viewing Myanmar through the lens of other disciplines allowed students to consider what it meant to be a developing nation in relation to issues such as urban planning, the environment, social issues and tourism.
“It was inspiring to listen to empowered, intelligent young people in Myanmar talk about the priority issues in their communities and hopes for the future of their home towns.
“The sense of community was strong in the villages, as everyone came together to feed us, speak with us and teach us.”
Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) student Chelsea Gillis took part in the tour because she wanted to apply her theoretical knowledge in a practical setting.
Her project focused on the role of stakeholders in making a community based tourism project successful.
“A lot of my research involved observation and participation, for instance, seeing how power dynamics were overcome during interactions with local people and how we were encouraged to share our own culture rather than just observe theirs,” Gillis said.
“During my time in Myanmar, I experienced the effect that participatory ActionAid programs have in empowering people and enabling them to achieve a better life for themselves.”
Gillis realised that through the participatory process, locals had control over decisions that affected them and therefore were more likely to commit to the project's development.
“Being able to participate and experience the project that I was studying was an invaluable learning experience,” Gillis said.
“I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to engage with the local people and understand their perspectives.
“For anyone studying international or community development, the trip is invaluable and provides learning opportunities you will never have in the classroom.”
Students presented their reflections and recommendations in a forum attended by the Minister of Tourism, tourism operators and other NGO’s in Myanmar.
“It helped students to develop academic, personal and professional skills in engaging with individuals and institutions from different historical and cultural settings,” Guevera said.
“Students learned to apply and adapt their skills and knowledge, which will be useful for future work or careers.”
Students recently presented their research and ideas to the community of Myanmar living in Melbourne.
The subject, International Perspectives in Community Development, is a global intensive available to undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Story: Jordan Di Stefano