This is my second year of being involved with our club’s support of the English Language Cultural Club and General Education Diploma (GED) Social Studies Program at BEAM Educational Foundation. The present BEAM Team is composed of Rotarians Nick, Anne, Peter, Roger and former club member Bob. First, a little background about Myanmar. Myanmar is very ethnically diverse with 135 ethnic groups recognized by that government. There are at least 108 ethnolinguistic groups in Myanmar. Officially, the country encompasses eight main ethnic groups. According to CIA Factbook, the majority group Burman make up 68% of the country’s population of 55 million, with the Shan (9%), the Karen (7%), the Arakanese (Rakhine) (4%) and the Mon (2%) comprising the largest ethnic nationality groups. Other estimates place the percentage of ethnic nationality groups to a substantially higher level. Many have argued that the breakdown of population by ethnicity remains highly contested and that the central government has consistently underestimated the size of non-Burman communities. Official demographic figures and indicators are likely to be particularly flawed in relation to border areas, many of which remain inaccessible to the government as well as international agencies. The official language used is Burmese, with some ethnic groups using their own languages. Religion in Myanmar is spread across Buddhist with 87.9%, Christian 6.2%, Muslim 4.3%, Animist 0.8%, Hindu 0.5%, other 0.2%, and none at 0.1% of the population. The median age in Myanmar/Burma is 28.2 years of age, with a total life expectancy of approximately 68.2 years.
When we meet with the incoming group of BEAM students each year our initial session is a “get acquainted” session where Rotarians tell the students about themselves and the students tell the Rotarians about themselves. Rotarians talk about their home country, their family, their profession, their hobbies, why they live in Thailand, and why they are at BEAM. The students tell us about their ethnic backgrounds, age, families, religion and why they are at BEAM. Generally, they are Karen and Shan, with a slight majority being female, typical age range from seventeen to twenty-two and religions primarily Buddhist and Christian. They have a common answer for being there: obtaining a GED to better themselves. We spend about twenty weeks of three 1.5 hour sessions per week on topics such as: My country, famous people, debate topics and other areas they want to learn about. This is followed by another ten weeks of four 1.5-hour sessions per week on supplemental reviewing for their upcoming GED Social Studies Test. If interested in knowing more about BEAM or in joining the CMIRC BEAM Team contact one of the BEAM Team members.