Myanmar: Fighting Death, Choosing Life

Faith moves mountains. After sixty days, the survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar are on a journey of resilience. The wounds inflicted by natural disasters take years to heal elsewhere. But the resilience of our people brings hope.

The memory of that fateful day is mercifully turning into efforts at resilience. And that is encouraging and sometimes really surprising. They were left to fend for themselves in the first two days amidst debris and death. For a full month, they lived among rotting dead bodies. Debris and the suffocating stink of decay was their company over a month. But heartrending stories of courage and resilience are emerging. Killer waves forced many parents to choose one child to another. In the camp in Aima, a woman narrated how she had to let go her new born child and saved the five year one. In those agonizing moments when the angry waves were snatching the two children, the mother made a choice – to sacrifice one to save the other. She made the choice, since the new born had not been emotionally bonded and lived with a memory; she let her go so that the other child who had friends and known love and expressed it could live.

In another place, two girls saved their little brother and one died in that ordeal. The boy was tied to the back of one of the girls and the two were being dragged by the waves. The elder one pushed the two towards the shores while she herself was devoured by the waves. ‘Whenever my little brother smiles, a tear rolls down my cheeks for the sweet sister who is no more with us’ says the survived sister. Profiles in courage chronicled through tears bring hope.

Our people are a proud and self dependant people. While post disaster traumatic symptoms are common place in many other areas of natural disasters, people of Myanmar show to the world why they are different. Myanmar has a long history of blood, battered ness and incremental sorrow. It was a bloody theater of war during the Second World war, and after the independence the chronic civil conflict left millions homeless and displaced. Decades of restricted living and lack of basic amenities has not deterred them to live in self dignity. Theirs is a resolute march of resilience.

The farmers are returning to their land. In villages like Aima, where they buried their pastor, Fr Andrew Soe Win, people knew a nagging eerie life will pursue them for months to come. In all the places they will live with the spirit of their kith and kin who perished. Simple women are emerging as the great healers. In tattered homes, they bring hope with calmness. Children have their uniforms and books back on their shoulders. Life is a mother, giving birth to a new creation and nudging her children to start again. Our people are turning out to be wounded healers, encouraging one another to start once again, like they did for years together through permanent disasters that confronted them in this country.

It is this journey that gives hope to the Church. The faith of our people is astounding. There are not many complaints against their creator. The churches are full again with these simple faithful people. Trauma counseling is a mega project after Tsunami. But our people are telling us that they can heal one another. Death courted them voraciously on that fateful night, but most of them are choosing life, refusing to be vanquished by the fury of nature or the neglect of men.

After two months, a sense of gratitude and fulfillment fills all of us. We were there to rescue them, feed them in the first week, console them in their moment of darkness. We are moved to tears when we see this people back again in their fields. Church walked with them in their moment of brokenness. We broke bread with them in their villages without homes and churches.

Support to their livelihood and shelter continues from the national Caritas and the Church. With the ensured the support of all of you, we are resolute to make their lives more dignified through greater livelihood options, decent living quarters and charting a hopeful future for their children. The deluge brought daring challenges but our people’s resilience is the greatest reward. And each one of you contributed in making that happens, is a sweet debt we owe to all of you.

In solidarity,

Charles Bo., SDB

Archbishop of Yangon

Myanmar.

Posted in News, Salesians

Update: Myanmar Relief Efforts

Dear Friends,

After 45 days of hectic work, the church and its group of committed volunteers, take a pause from the long journey of re-building our people’s lives, to express our deep gratitude to all of you who stood by us and the people of Myanmar in their hour of darkness. Thousands are returning home, or where their home used to be. Children return to school, knowing some of their friends will not be here. Farmers are returning to a slowly healing land, wounded by the marauding sea on that fateful day. The Ayeyawady River is subdued into serenity after straddling killer waves and exhibiting dead bodies for a month. It has been a heavy month for the church. In Dedeya, Fr Benedict and his group valiantly buried dead bodies, exposed to sun and rain for a month. It is a challenging work, for days together, many villages were a valley of bones, and now they are rested with dignity in a place. Elsewhere the caregivers, our volunteers, faced threats to their own physical and psychological health, living amidst contaminated water and rotting bodies. Some have to be carried back to Yangon for medical attention.

All the parishes have been turned into disaster response teams. Food and Non Food Items are distributed through them. Many times the Buddhist monks are fellow sojourners in this act of mercy. Just a month ago, no family had wish or wherewith all to send their children. This month, with our support for uniforms, books and fee, hundreds of children are returning to the school. This return is healing and is the first signs of life to the battered communities. Hundreds of Temporary shelters are coming up. Seeds are distributed. The

Church is designing a healing process through Psycho-Spiritual training and trauma healing services. The nightmare is slowly replaced with hope. Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar (CBCM), all the religious and faithful, Karuna (national Caritas) and the Caritas international is reiterate their commitment. We thank all of you at this juncture. Our work has been very challenging, done under great restrictions on access. But you all made our work rewarding by standing by us with your great fellowship. Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI evinced fatherly concern from the day one. He mourned with the Myanmar Bishops when they met him for their ‘ad limina’ visit. His Delegate Archbishop Salvatore Pennachio rushed in by the first plane available and personally interacted with the survivors and the caregivers all through these days. The churches from various nations contributed their mite and prayers to our work.

It has been a month of pain and sorrow for our people. But the tide is turning, because people like you felt their pain from far and rushed with assistance. The Church could save lives because of you. On behalf of those thousands who survived we owe a deep debt of gratitude to all of you. Once again we realize that the Universal Church is a mother who reaches out where there is a tear, a human brokenness.

It is still a long journey. The full recovery will take at least two years. Cyclone Nargis was nature’s nuclear attack on our people. There are villages destroyed without any trace. The farm lands are polluted with the sea water. The human asset is diluted, social assets destroyed, natural assets mutilated with wanton destruction. The poor of Myanmar, already handicapped by some of the worst permanent disasters, are crawling back to normalcy.

So our journey continues. The urgent needs are for setting up homes, shelter and regenerating the livelihoods through supply of seeds to farmers, encouraging micro enterprises. This has been a month of challenge, but a blessed challenge because we felt the power of human oneness, the unstinted support of the Mother Church and great generosity of human sprit among Myanmar people through their selfless service to their suffering brothers and sisters.

Our heartfelt thanks to every one of you.

In Solidarity,

Archbishop Charles Bo SDB

Posted in News, Salesians