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A Burst of Light

Students at the Learning Resources Center
First Year Anniversary

By Fr. Kurt Zion Pala

Before a huge crowd of young people in Portugal Pope Francis said, “Dear young friends, today we too need something of this burst of light, so that it can fill us with hope as we face the many failures of each day and the darkness that assails us in life, and respond to them with the light of the resurrection of Jesus. For he is the light that never sets, the light that shines even in the dead of night.” Pope Francis spoke about the moment Jesus took three of His disciples to the mountain where He “transfigured.” Through this brilliant burst of light Jesus draped the disciples for the dark night of the Passion.

Students discussing homework.
Students at the Learning Resources Center

Two years ago, we never thought of opening up a student center. What started out as a desire to provide an alternative learning program for the youth in the diocese, last year we celebrated our first-year anniversary. On August 15, 2022, the feast of the Assumption of Mary and nine days after the feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, we opened the Student Learning Resources Center at the St. Patrick’s Church compound in Shatapru, Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar (formerly Burma). The parish priest allowed us to use an abandoned house which we modified into classrooms, computer room, an office, a library and a counseling room.

Through your generous contribution, we provided basic English and Computer classes. The main program of the center is the nine-month long Positive Youth Development Program (PYDP) which is grounded on the Positive Youth Development framework that actively acknowledges and promotes the assets and strengths that young people possess. We do not focus on factors that may create negative outcomes but focus on building protective factors that help young persons to succeed in life. These positive assets for young people exist within themselves, in their culture and community. Once they complete the nine-month program, the student will then continue with the internship program where they are given the opportunity to work with our partner organizations for two months.

“Let us be strong and flexible together. Be smart, be stable, and try to learn something new each day. The more you learn the more you will improve in both the present and in the future.”

The vision of the center is to produce “Resilient and work-ready young adults to actively participate in the life of their local communities and nation by being transformational leaders, contributing to social and economic development, promoting peace and harmony, and serving those in need.” From 25 students in the first semester, only seven students of the Positive Youth Development Program (Batch1) are now in our internship program. Last year we had a maximum of 40-45 students attending our different programs. This year for the foundational English and Computer classes we have a total of eighteen students and the more advanced PYDP class has 15 students.

Prior to the anniversary, we spoke to our intern students. Zsofi Khaung Nywel (23 years old) believes that SLRC is special for the youth in Kachin State because it gives them chance to learn necessary information and skills to help them find good jobs. She joined the center to build herself a good network. She believes that education is the key to success and only education can fulfill all of her ambitions. She reminds the youth, “Let us be strong and flexible together. Be smart, be stable, and try to learn something new each day. The more you learn the more you will improve in both the present and in the future.” She wants to tell the world that the young people in Myanmar are starving for quality education.

Another student Maria Lamawn Ja Seng Lung (a 25-year-old university graduate) is a volunteer at a local youth organization. She believes that SLRC is “good and a center full of opportunities” to help her upgrade her skills and life. She is a university graduate student but does not have enough certificates and qualifications to land stable employment which is why she joined center. She hopes that after completing the program she will get a stable job. She wants to tell the young people, “don’t give up and one day we will get a great future and our dreams will come true.”

While Kareng Sut Chying Htoi Hkawng, a 22-year-old who wants to be an English language trainer and help children complete their studies, joined this center to get more opportunities and chances to continue his studies. Education is extremely important for him because it is not easy to survive unless we are educated. In other words, in order to earn decent money we have to be well-educated in Myanmar. He wants to say that even if young people in Myanmar are facing many difficulties and very few people are enthusiastic to help us, we just have to try ourselves to build our future and survive. But he also calls on the world to give young people of Myanmar more opportunities to get quality education.

Students at the Learning Resources Center in MyanmarLastly, an internally-displaced youth Sut Mai Naw (18 years old who resides at the Palana Internally Displaced Persons Camp) mentioned that “SLRC for me is my future. And I expect to learn more to increase my qualifications to be able to work. That is why I joined the center. Education is life for me because it is quite important. I want to tell the young people of Myanmar to put education first in our priorities.”

The center is also very youthful. Most of our staff have not completed their university degree programs. The center provides not only employment opportunities but also skills training for professional development. The mission of the center is “SLRC aims to be an inclusive, youth-centered and youth-led institution that provides integrated and holistic formation programs and activities for and with young adults.”

For many young people in Myanmar, the world around them is dark literally and figuratively. We experience more than 12 hours of power blackouts each day. But figuratively the whole country is under a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and restlessness — in many places it is darkness. Many young people are experiencing mental health issues, and there has been an increase in suicide among young people. Many young people are lost.

Pope Francis invites us all to be “burst of light” to others. He explained that we do not radiate our own light but “we radiate light — we shine – by welcoming Jesus into our hearts and learning to love as he does. To love like Jesus: that is what makes us shine, makes us do works of love. Friends, I am telling you the truth: whenever you do works of love, you become light. But the moment you stop loving others and become self-centered, you extinguish your light.”

Thank you for helping us to help young people in Myanmar. You are the “burst of light” for our young people here in Myanmar.

Columban Fr. Kurt Zion Pala lives and works in Myanmar.