For the third time, both St. Lazarus-Fonds Europe board members – Peter Chung and Thomas Gille – travelled to Myanmar in November 2019 to support the fond’s assistance projects in the leper colony St. Joseph in Loilem, Shan State, Myanmar.
During the course of the trip a number of assistance projects were visited and existing problems and successes were discussed with the people in charge on site. These visits also gave the opportunity to discuss further important ideas and to speak to the colony residents, which gave insight into new and specific projects.
The St. Lazarus-Fonds is supported on site by the Caritas organization KMSS in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. We started off with a presentation in their office by the project manager on the projects to date and the ones still required. In the course of a conversation with Archbishop Matthias the Archbishop emphasized the great importance of the St. Lazarus-Fonds donation-financed support for the people in the colony.
Since our last visit in Taunggyi we have been supporting a special home for children who are HIV-positive and therefore have significant social problems. After seeing the hardship there during our 2017 visit a first support program in the form of food and education was set up. We were able to see firsthand how this was working. The nuns responsible for managing the program reported on improvements in the children’s health, progress in social reintegration, and improved performance in school. The children demonstrated their progress with presentations on their daily life and life in the school, and there was also a very personal story from a 15-year old who related the story of his life and illness.
In order to spread out the effectiveness of St. Lazarus’s work in the future, we visited another leper colony near Inle Lake, not far from Taunggyi, prior to continuing on to the focus of our trip, the leper colony in Loilem. This other colony is also cared for by the Caritas Team KMSS, and is dependent on external assistance for improvements in living conditions. Following a walk through the village we spoke to the inhabitants and the head of the village about current problems and requirements. There are significant deficits in the area of education, particularly in elementary things such as learning materials and classrooms for the colony’s children and teenagers. Therefore an initial project was put together for the construction of a simple school building with a room for common learning. The St. Lazarus-Fonds board of directors will discuss this idea, and then find donors and sponsors.
After the visits in Taunggyi and the surrounding area were finished the journey moved on together with the KMSS team to the St. Joseph leper colony in Loilem. In the days which follow the current projects were visited and further assistance measures were discussed on site.
Many seriously ill lepers as well as people cured of leprosy live in this colony, in small communal groups or with their families. The colony, founded in 1936, is spread out over four villages in an extensive area about 5km outside of Loilem. Those who are seriously ill are cared for by three nuns, overseen by a catholic priest. The overall supervision and responsibility of the various assistance programs is in the hands of the Caritas in Taunggyi (KMSS).
The cattle and fish farming portions of the agriculture and nutrition program which was funded by St. Lazarus-Fonds starting in 2015 is already showing significant returns. The products are now a fixed component of the colony supplies, and have brought a lasting improvement in the quality and reliability of the colony nutrition.
Extensive fruit plantations formed another portion of the program. The avocado plantation has developed so well that the visitors were able to admire the first fruits. The mango trees have taken more time, which is likely due to the unusually dry recent rainy periods. The project manager assumes that the first fruit will be harvested in one to two years.
In addition to the extensive avocado and mango plantations 1000 dragon fruit plants were planted. Their development has been variable, depending on the location and the water supply. The first fruit is expected in 2020.
The St. Lazarus-Fonds visitors had the opportunity to watch the work of cultivation and care of the plants and plantations. This strenuous work is carried out by the colony residents, both young and old, healthy or ill, with simple tools. This aspect is also part of the St. Lazarus-Fonds program – help for self-help and to strengthen the sense of responsibility for their own existence.
The re-cultivated fish pond was supplemented by the construction of a pig stall near the pond. The dung which is washed into the pond has the effect of improving the fish harvest.
On the way through the colony the visitors got repeated views of the flourishing cattle herd, due to the way which paths criss-cross the colony. The cattle were purchased as part of the agriculture program. They have become a lasting success of the program and demonstrate clearly that our funds were well-spent.
One of the most extensive and also expensive projects in the colony in the past two years was the set-up of a boarding house for some of the children in the colony. Now that a building has been provided, renovated, and put into use, the focus is on securing a lasting financing of lessons and supplying the children in the school. The school has 40 children. The 12 boys sleep in an external building. This building, which is more of a run-down hut, is a very poor and provisional accommodation. The 12 boys sleep in a very small room on wobbly beds. One bed, for instance, consisted of an old door with wooden supports. The girls were living in the boarding house on thin mats laid on the floor. We arranged that mattresses were purchased locally as a temporary solution.
We discussed possible solutions to the boy’s accommodations with the Caritas helpers, and resolved on a new project. One possible solution would be the renovation and conversion of a nearby building. Additionally, right on the spot, a commitment was made to supply beds for the 18 girls in the boarding house and for further furniture such as school desks. In the presence of Archbishop Matthias a corresponding sum in cash, brought with us, was presented to the head of Caritas in Taunggyi, Fr. Paulu Nan, to put these intentions into practice.
This shows that in spite of the circumstances and difficulties of a trip to the colony through Myanmar, the direct contact makes quick decisions and assistance in the colony possible.
During the past four years the extensive well and water supply program has enabled a year-round secure water supply in most parts of the colony. Supply is still very instable in one of the villages, so that drilling another well will be necessary. For this purpose, and also for a sufficient and independent water supply for the boarding house, the Caritas Taunggyi will be creating a project proposal, and an application for St. Lazarus-Fonds support will be made.
A formal celebration with dance and song, conducted by the children and teenagers at the boarding house, was a fitting finale to our 2 ½ day visit to the St. Joseph colony. Many people from other parts of the colony attended. Much gratitude and joy was expressed for the support by the St. Lazarus-Fonds. Residents spoke in many conversations about the improvements in living conditions, and that people now viewed the future with optimism and hope.