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York Centre for Asian Research Update             Issue 27, Wednesday, October 12, 2005

ChATSEA/CCSEAS hold meetings in Toronto this week

The Challenges for Agrarian Transition in Southeast Asia (ChATSEA) project and the Canadian Council for Southeast Asian Studies (CCSEAS) are having back-to-back meetings this week in Toronto, Canada. The ChATSEA team will have its meeting on October 13 at the University of Toronto to discuss the developments and progress of  the five-year SSHRC-MCRI project.

The CCSEAS will hold its Southeast Asian Conference on Revisioning Southeast Asia: Conflicts, Connections and Vulnerabilities on October 14-16 at the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Building, York University. Among the highlights of the Southeast Asian Conference are the sessions reflecting on the works of Terry McGee and the Indochina War After 30 Years. (Note: The Indochina War session is open to the public on Friday, October 14 from 2:30-4:00 pm at TEL 0001, see York Media Release). The conference will also explore topics as diverse as Southeast Asia’s history, democratic movements, migration and transnationalism, popular culture, urban and rural development, environment and livelihoods, contemporary conflicts, regional political issues, and the interface between social activism and scholarship.

For non-CCSEAS members who are interested in attending the panel sessions, the daily rate is $20 on October 14 and 15 and $35 on October 16, including boxed lunch.

YCAR gets nod to implement Indigenous Peoples Scoping Exercise

YCAR is looking for a graduate student to do background research for a project involving the Rural Poverty and Environment (RPE) Program of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).  The project will focus on specific regions in Latin America and Asia. 

The research assistance will involve 50 hours of work during October and November, with a possibility of extension.  Preference is given to individuals with experience in doing research on indigenous peoples and the environment in Asia or Latin America, and knowledge of the kinds of organizations currently working with indigenous peoples.  Tasks include identifying a list of organizations (research centres, civil society organizations, NGOs and donors) involved in research related to indigenous peoples and the environment in the focus area; obtaining information relating to current and past strategic research foci for selected organizations, current and emerging research issues relating to indigenous peoples and the environment, and materials relating to approaches to building research capacity in indigenous organizations, or institutions working with indigenous peoples. 

If interested, please submit your curriculum vitae and one-paragraph statement outlining your experience in this area to Rhoda Reyes at rreyes@yorku.ca, tel: (416) 736-2100 ext. 44068, fax: (416) 736-5688.  If you have questions, please feel free to contact any of the following project participants:  Peter Vandergeest (YCAR) at pvander@yorku.ca, ext. 44076, David Szablowski (Social Sciences) at davidsz@yorku.ca ext. 77814, and Melissa Marschke (YCAR) at marschke@yorku.ca ext. 44067.  Deadline of application: Monday, October 17, 2005.

YCAR and York Geography co-sponsor talks by Jim Glassman and Geraldine Pratt

Is the Thai State National? This is the topic of the talk by Dr. Jim Glassman (left) on Wednesday, October 12, 11:30 am at Ross S421, York University, Keele Campus. Dr. Glassman is assistant professor at the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He specializes in Southeast Asia urbanization and development issues. His research interests include political economy of development in Southeast Asia; regionalization in the Greater Mekong sub-region; geo-politics and social conflict in East and Southeast Asia. His current research focuses on Decentralization or Regionalization in Southern Thailand and the Greater Mekong Sub-Region which examines the impact of regional economic growth in Southern and Northern Thailand.

Dr. Geraldine Pratt (right),  also professor at UBC's Department of Geography will talk on Family Reunification among Filipino Families in Vancouver on Tuesday,  October 18, 11:30 am at Ross S421. This research project is being done in collaboration with the Philippine Women's Centre and Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada. Her fields of interest include feminist geography as well as race, gender and labour market segregation. She is current editor of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space and author of Working Feminism published by Edinburgh University Press and Temple University Press. For more information see: http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1754_reg_print.html.

Both Drs. Glassman and Pratt are in Toronto to participate in the CCSEAS Conference this week.


YCISS, SAST and YCAR co-sponsor talk by Sandeep Pandey

The York Centre for International and Security Studies, the York Centre for Asian Research, and the South Asian Studies Program present Dr. Sandeep Pandey (left), Co-Founder of Asha for Education who will talk on Decentralizing the Peace Process: People to People on Monday, Oct. 17, 2:30-4:00 pm at 280 York Lanes, York University. Dr. Pandey is a leading authority on education, water rights, Indo-Pakistan peace and denuclearization. In 2002 he received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership. He will be speaking in various public forums in Toronto and Ottawa on the role of education in catalyzing socio-economic change. He will also provide his views on NGO’s and the important role they play in delivering support to marginalized communities.
Chair: Sergei Plekhanov, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, York University. Also in the panel are Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Ritu Mathur, Ph.D Candidate, Department of Political Science, York University.
For more information, visit the YCISS website at


Japan Foundation Toronto and Canada Japan Society of Toronto feature talk on Japanese TV advertising

Dr. Alan Middleton (right) from York's Schulich School of Business, will present a talk on The Wonderful World of Japanese TV Advertising on Friday, October 14 at 6:30 pm at the Japan Foundation Toronto Event Hall, 131 Bloor Street West. Born and educated in London and Brighton, England, Dr. Middleton graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science, London University with a B.Sc. Honours in Sociology. He subsequently earned an MBA and a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Schulich. Dr. Middleton is currently the Executive Director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre, and is a frequent speaker at conferences in North America on subjects relating to marketing and international business. He will discuss what Japanese advertising tells about Japan, analyzing some of the current societal values, culture and economy of Japan visible through this window. The lecture will be accompanied by slides and video clips. Please RSVP at 416. 966.1600, ext. 600 or rsvp@jftor.org.

YCAR has a new visiting scholar from China

Dr. Youling Rao, Associate Professor from the Department of International Economics and Trade, Nankai University, China, has been awarded by China's Education Ministry a visiting scholarship at YCAR. She will be doing a one-year research in the area of international trade and investment in Canada.

Likewise a fellow at the Centre for Northeast Asian Studies at Nankai University, Dr. Rao's research focuses on economic cooperation between China, Japan and Korea. She specializes in public finance including China's fiscal policy and taxation reform. She has published several books and articles on technology transfer, e-commerce, fiscal risks and international service trade as well as WTO dispute settlement issues. She is at YCAR from October 1, 2005-2006.

Asia's lost generation, by Yap Lih Huey, ANN Special Report, 2005-10-06

In parts of Asia, conflict and warfare have destroyed the lives of many children. Victims without a voice, they are being forced to grow up quickly. Children continue to be exploited, whether through voluntary or forced recruitment, for causes they may not comprehend. Certain Asian countries are losing an entire generation.

Right: Chay Shay with some of the children in ‘New Star’. Most of the children plan to finish their education up to university and want to return to Burma to serve the country.

About 20 children from the Karen state in Burma walked for three months in the dense jungle, hoping to make it to Thailand. Their quest? Merely the possibility of a better education. The youngest in the group was a 10-year-old girl who lost a leg when she stepped on a landmine during the trek.

The children survived on fruits, bamboo shoots and river water. They had the sun as their guide, soft leaves as their blankets, earth as their bed … and drank in the view of the shining stars overhead for their nightcap. Their parents, still in Burma, sent them away reluctantly, hoping for the best while knowing they may never see their children again. It was a gamble – either the children would remain to be exploited in Burma, or they could seize the chance of going to a school in Thailand, just like “normal” children.

Luck was with them as they finally stumbled on to a Karenni refugee camp in the forest reserves of Mae Hong Son, in the north of Thailand at the Thai-Burmese border. In this particular camp, there are about 5,000 Karenni refugees, 1,500 of them children.

“New Star” – that’s the name of the boarding house for these children. A hand-painted white wooden signboard with a star as its logo is perched at the top of a common hall in the boarding house’s compound; signifying hope, perseverance and new beginnings.

There are 61 children in the boarding house, 28 of them girls. The oldest child is 19 years old and the youngest is 10. Their normal route to school is through an unfriendly, narrow mountain path. During the mid-year rainy season, the path turns muddy and slippery, causing accidental deaths. “There is not enough food to go around and proper clothing is scarce, especially during the cold months at year-end. Healthcare and nutrition are major problems too,” Chay Shay, the 60-year-old housekeeper, said through an interpreter.

The children get new clothes only once a year, and sometimes they have to share. Fights do break out, understandable given the lack of privacy and personal space: Each room, measuring eight by 12 feet and further subdivided by bamboo partitions, is occupied by four children.

Deplorable conditions

Skin diseases, diarrhea, respiratory problems, malaria and pneumonia are common among children in the refugee camps. The New Star boarding house receives funds and food from the refugee camp committee, which in turn is assisted by the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a coalition of international aid groups. Rice, beans and fish paste, supplied by TBCC, is what these refugee children have been living on for years. Meat is rare and considered a precious commodity. Vegetables are grown in gardens, but some unfortunate families don’t have enough land for this.

The Thai authorities do not allow the refugees, including the children, to leave the camp. Thus, many do not have any source of income and are cut off from the outside world, subsisting on handouts. Their only mode of communication is via battery-operated radios, which receive Thai and Burmese stations, and a Burmese community paper called Kantarawaddy Times, circulated among Karenni refugee camps in Thailand. A few have managed to smuggle mobile phones into the camp.

Some spend their time staring lifelessly into the distance. Others, traumatised by their flight and plight as refugees, take it out on the children, who suffer emotional or physical abuse at the hands of parents or relatives. Some parents have taken their own lives. The brave and able ones sneak out of the camp through a “back door” – by walking for at least five hours through steep and dangerous jungle paths, they go looking for jobs at surrounding Thai villages.

The education grail

While many of the children were sent here to seek a better education, those who made it still face an uncertain future. The syllabus at the refugee camps, up to Grade 10 (17 years old), is not recognised by the governments of Thailand or Burma, nor by any international organisation. In this Karenni camp alone, there are around 200 Grade 10 students.

Most do not have a good grasp of English and thus face obstacles in pursuing higher education or vocational training. Even if they could be admitted into institutes of higher learning, they would face problems like a lack of finances or proper identification – they have no passports or identification cards.

However, the Permanent Secretary of Thailand’s Ministry of Education Dr Kasama Varavarn remained optimistic on the prospects of educating non-Thai citizens. When contacted, she told the Asia News Network that the ministry’s recent education policy includes provisions to set up learning centres at all nine refugee camps in Thailand by the end of this year. The project hinges on a Bt9-10 million (US$218,230-242,480) budget being approved by the Security Office.

Dr Kasama expects to know the outcome of her proposal within a month. The budget will be used to set up the learning centres in the refugee camps, as well as to operate them during the initial stages. “We are now seeing a concerted effort … . The learning centres will teach refugee children basic Thai and include an equivalency programme from primary to secondary levels. These centres will also provide vocational training to adults,” she said.

Her target is to reach the 65,000 children living in all refugee camps in Thailand. At the moment, there is only one such learning centre located in Mae La and it is not known how successful it has been. Dr Kasama estimated that the learning centres would need about 10 to 20 volunteer teachers.

She said her challenges were promoting the Thai language among the refugees, mobilising her people to implement the programme, and motivating the refugees to communicate in Thai. However, she stressed that these learning centres were not being established to assist refugee students in entering universities. “We can help them get into universities whenever there are requests. We’ve heard there are problems when admitting them as some are not good students,” Dr Kasama claimed.

Mere glimmer

While certain refugee communities have pinned their hopes on the Ministry of Education’s new policy on educating non-Thai citizens, which was announced in July, critics were quick to point out that it is not addressing the real problem of allowing refugee children to further their studies. Critics also wonder how teachers would be able to gain access to the refugee camps as most are in the deep jungle where there are no proper roads. The squalid living conditions in these camps are also another point to consider.

While the change in the Thai education system for refugee children may take years to reach its goals, Myo Htoo,15, and Soe Min, 16, said they just want to improve their command of English to get jobs. (Note: The children’s names have been changed to protect their identity.)

Former Burmese child soldiers who are now separated from their parents and living in the Karenni refugee camp, the two managed to escape from the Burmese military while on assignment about eight months ago. Soe said he doesn’t have any job preference as long he’s earning enough to support himself. Myo’s dream is to be resettled in a third country. When asked what his ambition is, he said matter-of-factly, through an interpreter: “I want to be a driver. I want to earn money … it’s hard to dream of a high position.”

York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR). For further information, contact ycar@yorku.ca
Ste. 270 York Lanes, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto ON  M3J 1P3. URL: www.yorku.ca/ycar.