Student sets up school for refugee children in Thailand

A student from the University of Bath is set to transform the lives of young Burmese refugees in Thailand, when he completes plans to set up a new school for them next month.

Steve Gomersall, a second year psychology student, is taking a two-year sabbatical to move to the Mae Sot area of Northern Thailand to establish the sixth-form school for young people who have fled persecution in Burma.

Most of the students will be orphans, many having witnessed their parents’ murder.

The school will be based in a remote part of the region, giving education to young people who would otherwise have no access to schooling.

A local missionary has sourced a building for the school and Steve will be recruiting local teachers and creating a curriculum.

Steve teaching in Thailand last year

Steve spent last summer teaching English to Burmese refugee children in the area, after he was selected by the University’s International Office to join a scheme called the Migrant Outreach Education Initiative (MOEI).

He has since been passionate about helping the refugee community and has inspired his friends in the University’s Christian Union to join him in fundraising activities.

He has raised over £2,500 to buy mosquito nets and blankets, and to improve catering and sanitation facilities for a number of refugee schools along the Thai-Burma border.

This year, when he moves to Thailand in June after his exams, he will work on the MOEI initiative to train new student teachers for a week, before taking up his long term commitments with both the new school and Hsa Thoo Lei Learning Centre where he has worked on his past two trips.

Steve said: “My time in Thailand was truly life changing. I made some wonderful friends and felt that I had really made a difference to the lives of my students.

“I want to do more because these kids have gone through so much. Despite the sadness in their lives they never stop smiling and they make the best of every day. They deserve to have a better chance in life and I am determined to help them to take the first step.

“An education will mean the difference between spending their lives in a refugee camp and being able to get a job and start to rebuild their community.”

Steve thanked the University Christian Union for their generous fundraising support, especially Andy Sheath for his sponsored head-shave and Loz Winter who took part in the event, plus Stephen Davis, Lizzie Jones, Jonny Boustrad and Dave Hart for joining Steve on a 200 mile cycle through the mountains of Wales, camping in sub-zero temperatures.

Steve is now focused on raising the final funds needed to open the school in July. He needs just 10 people to pledge £10 for the next year, to help the school meet its running costs before international funding kicks in. To find out more or make a pledge, please email Steve at smg24@bath.ac.uk.

Andy Howman, Senior Assistant Registrar in the University’s International Office said: “The University is incredibly proud of Steve’s achievements. He has worked tremendously hard to raise this money and we wish him every success with his endeavour to help these young refugees.”

Steve kept a blog of his time settling in to the country, getting to know the people and culture, and finding his feet as a teacher during his stay last summer.

The MOEI is organised by the University of Hong Kong. This summer there will be approximately 22 teachers in total, with three from the UK, and the rest from Hong Kong University.

Steve with his students in 2008

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