By Pietera Fraser (PhD Candidate and Graduate Teaching Associate, Department of Writing and Rhetoric Studies, University of Utah)
Picture a Jesuit campus, tucked between an ornate Buddhist temple and the lush Burmese mountains. The courtyard is filled with vibrant flowers and inspirational education quotes painted on the walls, and the classrooms are filled with young minds learning to be educators and social workers. This is St. Aloysius Gonzaga Institute of Higher Studies (SAG-IHS) in Taunggyi, Myanmar.
SAG-IHS is a 3-year higher education institution that specializes in training young educators to teach in disadvantaged areas throughout Myanmar, often requiring a special knowledge of social work for the marginalized students they will encounter. The University of Utah (U of U) has a partnership with SAG-IHS, which is how I had the wonderful opportunity to get involved.
When I was initially invited to journey to Taunggyi to visit the SAG-IHS campus—alongside Dr. Patrick Panos from the U of U’s Department of Social Work—in order to help bolster their writing curriculum, I was not entirely sure what to expect. When I arrived, I was taken aback by the dedication of the administration and faculty, and the enthusiastic motivation of the students. Over the course of three days, I had the privilege of teaching several lectures to every student at SAG-IHS: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year students. I was so impressed with every cohort. The majority of class time was spent having discussions about the value of writing in both education and social work, in addition to writing activities to reflect on that significance. It was such a delight having these discussions with all the students—getting to hear their invaluable perspectives on writing, education, and social issues in Myanmar—and I was thoroughly impressed with their writing abilities after reading what they had composed in class. My biggest takeaway from these students was the admirable level of devotion they had to their studies, and their wholehearted desire to reach out to the marginalized youth of their country.
When I first arrived, it was the beauty of Taunggyi and the SAG-IHS campus that impressed me, but as I departed, the real beauty engrained in my mind was that of a faithful community of aspiring educators who will shape their country through the hearts of the youth.
Photos taken by Pietera during her time at SAG-IHS (March 2020)