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Buffalo State students and staff get creative in Myanmar

STAFF REPORTS

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- How can creative thinking help advance sustainable development goals in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar?

Buffalo State’s International Center for Studies in Creativity and School of Education—with support from the International Education Office and the Civic and Community Engagement Office—intend to help find an answer to that question.

This summer, the college is sponsoring a three-week service-learning course that will immerse students and members of the alumni community in a unique cultural and hands-on experience in Yangon and Naypyitaw, Myanmar. The course, slated for June 29 to July 18, is the college’s first foray into building long-term working relationships in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Led by John Cabra (pictured at right), associate professor of creative studies at Buffalo State, and Myo Thant, '05, executive director of the Institute of Myanmar United, the course is designed to help the people of Myanmar become more confident in their creative thinking so that they can address the physical, social, and economic challenges facing their country today and in the future.

Ultimately, as part of its commitment to community and global engagement, Buffalo State aims to provide vital assistance in the development of K–12 and higher education, civic life, the economy, and environmental practices in Myanmar.

“This course and the student assignments are growing faster than expected,” said Cabra. “The demand is understandable. Myanmar does not have the institutional capacity to advance change at the pace they desire. The creative process we teach at Buffalo State has piqued their interest as they see it as an interdisciplinary process to address challenges.”

The students and alumni are collaborating on projects with the Dha Maw Da Monastery School for students in grades 1-8, the Free Funeral Services Society (FFSS), one of the country’s leading nonprofit organizations, which also provides healthcare, ambulatory service, organic food farming, and educational programs, and the Joint Public Accounts Committee of the Myanmar Parliament (JPAC).

Other partners include the U.S. Embassy in Yangon, the Asia Foundation, the National League for Democracy Education Network, the Myanmar Ministry of Education, and the Renaissance Institute, a policy institute in Myanmar that focuses on economic reform initiatives.

Buffalo State participants on the trip will engage in service learning assignments involving teaching and observing in schools, addressing social issues at a nonprofit hospital, and promoting entrepreneurial activity in a city district of Yangon; collaborating creatively with local lawmakers to support potential policy development; delivering workshops that involve government budgeting and developing a transparent and participatory budget process that incorporates creative problem solving to support good governance principles, effective budgeting, and programs that meets the citizens’ needs; and learning about Myanmar’s geography, culture, cuisine, industry, educational, and political systems.

Several generous donors are helping fund the effort:

• Roger Firestien (pictured on left), lecturer in the International Center for Studies in Creativity, recently made a $6,000 gift to support the service-learning course. The senior faculty member’s donation is covering travel expenses for alumni participants.

• Beyonder LLC has committed $1,000 to the course. Beyonder was founded by alumni of Buffalo State’s creative studies program as an enterprise that provides creative thinking programs across the globe.

• Jon Michael Fox, lecturer in the International Center for Studies in Creativity, has made an individual gift commitment to the course.

• Lin Restaurant, a Thai and Burmese cuisine restaurant in Buffalo, hosted a fundraiser at the Campbell Student Union in April. Proceeds of approximately $650 were donated to offset travel, housing, and meal costs for students participating in this trip.

“This is an extremely important initiative for our students and for the world. The Myanmar project allows our students to apply what they have learned about creativity to help make our world a better place,” said Firestien. “I am honored to be able to help support Dr. Cabra’s passion and vision as he spearheads this important work.”