Many eyes have turned to Myanmar, watching in amazement as its secretive, authoritarian regime opens up to the world. That includes a group of students at the University of Hong Kong, who through their organisation, Connecting Myanmar, sent students to Myanmar to witness the campaign leading up to the April 1 elections and work on construction programmes. 'Nobody knows really what is going on [in Myanmar],' said Edward Tsoi Mang-hin, 21, the group's founder. 'I wanted to do something for the country.' A second-year social sciences student at HKU, Tsoi got acquainted with Myanmar for the first time last summer, when he taught English to Myanmese refugees in Mae Sot, a town just across the Thai border, for 10 weeks. The experience was such an eye-opener that when Edward came back, he decided to found Connecting Myanmar, which now has about 25 members. About 1.5 million Myanmese refugees live on the Thai side of the border, having fled poor economic conditions, human rights violations and continuing violence between the military and ethnic groups, such as the Karen. Jess Connett and Charlie Quaradeghini, two British students attending HKU, went with Tsoi to Yangon, the former capital, from March 1 to 13 to observe the campaign for the April 1 by-elections. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won 43 of the 45 seats. 'The trip solidified our desire to get involved in as many ways as we could,' said Quaradeghini, 21. In Yangon they found an atmosphere that few people could have imagined even a few months ago. 'We were surprised about the general openness,' said Connett, a psychology student. 'People would talk to us on the street about politics.' They attended an NLD meeting, donning the party's caps and wearing its logo. 'People would give us the thumbs-up,' Quaradeghini said. Even so, Connett and Quaradeghini sensed that Myanmese were still careful not too disclose their political leanings too openly. Dr Ian Holliday, dean of social sciences and professor of political science at HKU, said many Myanmese now talk openly about politics, 'though some would still prefer not to because of the legacy of the long climate of fear'. Optimism for the country is growing, says Immaculata May Endira, one of eight Myanmese students at HKU. She is still having difficulty believing in all the recent changes the military regime has introduced. 'We can hope for the best,' she said. A psychology student, she plans to eventually return to Myanmar and work with non-governmental organisations promoting education. Connecting Myanmar is organising several short-term summer programmes for HKU students in Myanmar and on the Thai side of the border. It is also organising 'Myanmar Week', April 16-19, with a movie screening, photo exhibition and a dinner with Myanmese students. More information is available at Connectingmyanmar.org.