Columban priests and Sisters served the Kachin people of Burma, now Myanmar, for 30 years until forced to leave the country in 1978. During those years, they founded a strong Church with a network of parish centers, many with a school and a boarding house, where students who lived two to three days’ journey away on foot could live and study.
The system worked well and produced leaders on all levels of society. But in 1962, the schools were nationalized when the military took over, and the education system gradually deteriorated along with the economy. The Church now faces the immense problem of providing for the education of the children and youth attending the national schools under a military regime that has reduced Myanmar to one of the poorest nations in the world.
The boarding houses have fallen into disrepair. Not only do the parish priests lack the funds to repair and maintain the houses, but they also can’t afford to hire qualified teachers to run the schools and provide what the students need. Even the houses known as the “good ones” are in very poor condition, with no decent toilets or washing facilities. The students have just two meals a day, which they must cook themselves.
In the two Kachin dioceses where the Columbans formerly operated, there are 30 boarding houses for approximately 700 children. It’s a daunting and costly task to renovate these houses and provide them with the proper facilities. The Columban Fathers and their benefactors are the children’s only hope.