Cheerful Faces and Joyous Hearts and Eyes
If you are from a very poor family living in a remote village with no electricity, no running water and poor transportation, you might feel depressed and feel the world is unfair. You would be right to think this way.
If you and your family are living in IDP [Internally Displaced People] camps because your home was destroyed by the military and your small piece of land where you used to grow rice and vegetables was confiscated by the government, you would feel anger and frustration. You would be right to feel this way.
Here at my Higher Education Center we have 120 young people aged 18-21 who come from these places. They are on a three year residential course to train as teachers and development workers for the good of the church and their country Myanmar (formerly Burma). I am amazed and humbled that despite the cruelty, discrimination and harshness they have suffered, they have cheerful faces and joyous hearts and eyes.
Patrick, his Christian name, is one of these young people. He is from the war torn Kachin State in the northern part of the country. While the Kachin State is rich in natural resources, it has been exploited by the military and Chinese with no benefits to the people. Patrick and his family are among the many thousands of victims. Patrick, his parents and four siblings were forced to flee to a refugee camp when their simple home was burned down, and their small piece of land was confiscated by the military. The few pigs they were rearing to generate some income for the family were killed and eaten by the military as they ravaged their village. Patrick's mother leaves the refugee camp early in the morning to work outside doing the 3 Ds work [dirty, dangerous and difficult] and returns in the late evening. She earns $75 for a month's work. How can she feed her family on this? Patrick's father suffered from poor health for many years and was unable to work.
In August 2017, Patrick, his mother and siblings suffered another blow. Their father went out one morning walking to visit a friend. He didn't have a motorbike or even a bicycle. He did not return to the refugee camp that afternoon. When the mother returned from work at dark she raised the alarm. The children and others in the camp went searching for him but could not find him. At sunrise the next morning they found him dead among bushes and shrubs. He had been shot by the military. He was an innocent man.
As Patrick, a first year student, told me this sad story he shed many tears. He felt bad that his mother could not make the small contribution we ask to the Higher Education Center. I assured him that he had enough problems and difficulties in his life, and I would look for a scholarship for him as I do for many of our students. In classes or during recreation he is like all the other students, who have their own sad family stories, wearing a cheerful smile and joyous heart and eyes. "My faith and God's love supports me," he says.
As missionaries we receive more from the poor than we give.
Columban Fr. Neil Magill lives and works in Myanmar, formerly Burma.