The Königsteiner Woche is a small local newspaper in Königstein, Germany, and has offices not far from those of the St. Lazarus-Fonds Europa. This article, which is shown elsewhere in the original German on this website, is given here in translation. The original was published on February 15, 2018.
St. Lazarus-Fonds Europa: Help for Lepers and a new Ambassador
Peter Chung, Chairman of the St. Lazarus-Fonds Europa, and Dr. Thomas Gille, Vice-Chairman of the organization, personally lend a hand, so that the people in the village group in Loilem, in northern Myanmar, have access to a minimum of infrastructure.
Königstein. For the past few years this has been the main goal of the St. Lazarus-Fonds Europa: providing the financial means for a colony of lepers and their families in Myanmar, a country previously known as Burma. The colony St. Joseph is near the city of Loilem in Shan State in northeastern Myanmar.
In 2015 a delegation from St. Lazarus-Fonds travelled to Myanmar to check the feasibility of the projects planned there. Based on this information funds were authorized to implement these ideas. In December 2017 the chairman of the St. Lazarus-Fonds Europe, Peter Chung, and the vice-chairman, Dr. Thomas Gille, visited Loilem again. The intention was to inspect the progress of the projects which the group is supporting and also to maintain a personal contact to these project workers on site. An additional, and important, goal, for the travelers was to meet the ill and other occupants of the leper colony.
Chung and Gille were able to form their own views of the progress of the project. The colony is made up of five villages and the intention, over the long term, is that the villagers learn through the efforts of the Königstein based group to be self-sufficient, stated Erik Opper, a board member of the St. Lazarus-Fonds Europa. The documentary film maker Philip Staerke, who lives in Myanmar, has made a new film which illustrates the perspectives for the villagers for an independent future. 675 posts were put into the ground, and 1350 dragon fruit plants are now growing on them. In two other areas 2000 avocado and mango seedlings have been planted. However, it will be at least three years before these bear fruit – an important part of the project is the long term, durable nature of the investments. In addition to fruit planting there is also trout farming, chickens, and pig farming to provide possible future income for the villagers.
Another large project, which is being given priority, is the building of wells. The group started this in 2015 with the sum of 30,000 Euro. Now they are working on wells for the villages four and five and have already gained a commitment for 2018 of 10,000 Euro so that a well can be drilled. In this case the chairman of the Lieselotte-Faber-Stiftung, Dr. Jost, renewed his commitment from the previous year. The Maria Friedrich-Grundler Stiftung in Munich is also supporting the well building in the next two years with a significant sum. The well projects which were agreed to at the time of the 2015 Loilem visit have been completed and three of the villages in the colony now have their own wells and water tanks, and in most cases there are taps near the houses. However, in one village three drilling attempts were not successful, so that the work had to be stopped. There is another possibility – there is an above-ground spring about five kilometers away, and it would be possible to bring water to the village through a pipe. The plans are already well advanced, so that the work can be started as soon as a commitment to cover the costs has been received.
The visitors were able to inspect the wells which were already completed.
There is also a program to build toilets directly onto the houses, so that the lepers who are normally bedridden can have access to them. Presently the inhabitants of the village only have squat-latrines. Since many of the lepers in the village are seriously handicapped by their illness they have difficulty getting to the outhouses and then using the latrines. There is no running water at these latrines. During the rainy season the latrines often flood, and then are not useable. The intention is to build a toilet and shower add-on to each house in the village, to install sitting toilets and a water supply for flushing the toilets, a wash basin and a shower room (a large water tank with a scoop). In the first construction phase about 80 inhabitants were able to profit from 30 such new toilet houses in village one.
The local partner is the KMSS – Karuna Mission Social Society. Father Paulu Nan has been in charge of the local Caritas organization KMSS since early 2017, and this organization has overseen the projects in the Loilem leper colony. The Project Manager, Saw Han, has been pursuing all activities in the colony with great professionalism.
For the many children, who are part of the colony families, 196 backpacks to suit different ages in various sizes and models were purchased at a local wholesaler. These will make it easier to transport school materials on the often difficult trip to school.
In 2015 the St. Lazarus-Fonds members also visited a small home for children supervised by nuns. These children are HIV positive, or have AIDS.
At the time a wish was expressed for financial support for a new building to improve the very poor accommodations. In the meantime Caritas from Singapore has fulfilled this wish. Peter Chung and Thomas Gille were able to visit the construction site of this new home. With the new building it will be possible to give up to 20 children a worthy accommodation and have them looked after – to date only 5 children could be looked after in very poor conditions in a much too small hut. Since the financing of the required furniture for the new building such as beds, tables and chairs was not yet available, both St. Lazarus board members agreed on the spot to provide 5000 US Dollars. The joy over this news by the nuns who look after the home was very great. Now the children, who so far have been sleeping on the floor in a dark cellar room, will finally have real beds and normal rooms.
In the context of improvements to the school situation and supporting the children to receive a better education and therefore have better opportunities for the future, KMSS Project Manager Saw Han proposed starting a small private school in the colony. In this so-called boarding house about 50 pupils should have the possibility after the school day of doing homework, to do further studies in a small library, and also to stay overnight in the house. Presently the opportunities for learning at home are not good in many families, because the children must often work at home or for the family after school lessons. The girls in particular should profit from the boarding house, because they often do not have equal opportunities in the Myanmar educational system. Since there already is a suitable building in the colony area, the chances of bringing off this project are quite good. However, the building, which has not been used in many years and was once a private school before it had to close for financial reasons, will need an extensive renovation.
Running costs such as looking after the children and paying employees will be a significant expense factor. The St. Lazarus-Fonds is presently looking for donors and sponsors for this education project as well as for the sanitary and hygiene project.
There was another piece of good news right at the start of the year. The moderator Margit Lieverz, who lives in Königstein, will be an Ambassador for the group.