We spent several days in late February 2014 in Thailand presenting a training in business plan development to Burmese Community Learning Center teachers and youth leaders.
THE MIGRANT COMMUNITY IN RANONG
As described in a previous Partners Asia post, Ranong Community Learning June 2012, there is a substantial Burmese migrant community in and around Ranong. Located on the coast in southern Thailand, Ranong is a short boat ride from Kaw Thaung, the southern-most town in Myanmar/Burma. Burmese families have moved here from across the border to finds jobs and escape political conflict. Many find work in the fisheries, construction, and service industries in the Ranong area. In the past few years, more migrants have achieved “legal” status with passports, visas, and work permits. Such status is not easy to achieve, however, given the cost of documentation and the difficulty of obtaining the proper paperwork.
Increasingly, Burmese families here are choosing to send their children to school. For most people, these are not to Thai schools but rather to “Learning Centers” established to provide students an education based on a Burmese school curriculum. The Learning Centers have several goals – they provide a Burmese-based education to migrant children which includes Burmese, English and other subjects that will hopefully enable them to enter Burmese schools once they return home. They also teach children and adults Thai language and other life skills so that they can be more successful as migrants in Thailand. Partners Asia supports a community-based organization known as the Ranong Education Working Committee (REWC) which now supports four such learning centers. The work of REWC is part of a larger community movement to establish a whole network of such projects wherever in Thailand Burmese migrants live. The Marist Mission in Ranong and Buddhist monastic schools in the area all support similar Learning Centers to improve the lives of Burmese migrant children.
BUSINESS PLAN TRAINING
At the suggestion of Partners Asia and the invitation of REWC, we went to Ranong to teach a 2-day workshop on the basics of business planning to REWC teachers and teachers from other Learning Centers. One goal of the class was to help them in thinking about and developing additional revenue streams to support their schools and community activities. (We had presented a similar program In Lashio in November 2011.) It was a wonderful learning experience for us and hopefully for them as well.
REWC organizers U Thaung Yee and Daw EiEi Thet did an excellent job of identifying who should attend the training, arranging transportation to get them to the training, organizing the food, obtaining a free hall at a local Buddhist monastery, and generally taking care of all the logistics as well as helping us manage the class. They also secured two translators for us – young local women who rose to the occasion with enthusiasm, great energy, and a good grasp of English. Without them the class would not have been possible. Behind the scenes, Kyaw K. Soe, a Burmese man living in the Bay Area of California (whom we had met at a Partners Asia reception), had generously translated the main points of our presentation onto butcher paper so we could bring them with us, tape them to the walls of the room, and use them as virtual ‘power point slides’.
About 35 teachers and youth leaders attended the two-day training. A few had had or were thinking about ideas for small businesses and were familiar with the basic building blocks of business planning. But for most it was an entirely new experience to understand, think about, and systematically organize the various sections of a plan for developing a successful business. We presented the concepts and considerations for marketing, production, management, operations, and finance over the course of two days. The highlight of each day was in the afternoon when the class broke into small groups to choose a small business idea and craft a business plan based on what they had learned earlier that day – and then report back what they came up with to the entire class. They were remarkably quick learners and developed plans for a hotel, a restaurant, an organic farm, a truck delivery service, and a “one-stop shop” wedding business. They brought their own life experiences as migrants themselves to the conversations, recommending treating their employees fairly and paying them decent wages. The report out conversations were lively, to say the least.
At the end of the second day we went around the room inviting participants to tell the class what they had learned. What we heard was:
“I knew about some of this (like marketing) but now I see how I can put it altogether into a plan.”
“I came here not at all interested in business, but now I realize it can be interesting and fun.”
“I never thought business was something I could do, but now I understand it better and see that it is possible to start a small business”.
It remains to be seen when and how this training will help REWC to create new revenue streams for the Learning Centers it supports. But it clearly gave people new ideas to think about and a new confidence in their skills to meet new challenges in the future.
Mary and Heather
Partners Asia contributing writers