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Hope for a Brighter Tomorrow

Peter singing with some of his HEC classmates as backup

Student Visits Lift Spirits!

By Peter, as told to Columban Fr. Neil Magill

I am Peter, and I am a third year student at Columban Fr. Neil Magill's Higher Education Center [HEC] in Mandalay, Myanmar (formerly Burma). We get two weeks holiday during the academic year, but most of the 90 students at the HEC cannot go home. Our homes are so far away from Mandalay, and it is too expensive to travel. It can take two days to reach homes in remote villages. Fr. Neil discussed with us what we might do during our holiday, and we all agreed that we should spend the holiday with the children in orphanages and in the Internationally Displaced People [IDP] camps in the Kachin State where war has displaced thousands of families. These people have fl ed to the IDP camps. Many of us went to Myitkyina to experience their suffering and learn from them.

The day after we arrived at Myitkyina, we went to an orphanage. It was the first day of activities for our HEC students. In the orphanage we spent a half day playing games with the children and speaking with them and also encouraging them. I remembered my childhood life while I was there and I felt sad for the children because when I was their age I had my parents and my cousins. But what I saw in the orphanages and camps were hundreds of children many of whom didn't even know where they came from and who their parents are. This was heartbreaking for me. After we did our activities – teaching the children songs and dances – we went and said good bye to the Sister who has the responsibility for the orphanage. At that time she told us "Your coming is really good for the children. At holiday time students go home but these children cannot go back since they have no home to go back to since the military has destroyed their homes. So thank you very much for coming, you are always welcome to come here and brighten up the lives of the children. God bless you."

After that we went to some IDP camps for two days. In the IDP camps there are more children than in the orphanages, and there are also so many older people at the IDP camps. The compound of this IDP camp is very small, and it is on church land. All the simple houses in the IDP camps are very small, and they are built very close to each other with poor sanitation. I was really surprised that although the houses are small, there are at least eight people living in a single room.

In the IDP camps I asked an older woman about the situation in the IDP camp and also about her original home. She told me "Yes we can stay here under shelter and we don't need to worry about the guns shooting but how can I feel happy here, this is not our real home and we just come here because we want to stay alive. In reality we had to leave everything we possess and we had to run away from our sweet homes. Do you know that I want to go back home right now, I feel so bored here. I want to work and eat with my own money but now we have to wait for donors to come and we can eat just when they give us. Oh! God, I hate this life, please free me from this situation." I felt really sorry hearing what the woman said, and I know this feeling will never disappear from my mind.

We talked with many people and listened to their stories of their harsh life in the IDP camps and hoped that the war would end and these poor people could return to their homes and live with dignity. With a heavy heart we then played games with the children. The children were very active, but some were very shy to play games. They lacked confidence. I think this is because of what they had faced in their life, e.g., war and death of their parents. All the children are cute, and they asked "when will you come here again?"

From my point of view, the conflicts in our Kachin State will be very difficult to resolve. To have peace in our State we need more educated people and more volunteers who will help our Kachin State. We need justice and an end to the oppression of our people. And then there are still two big problems to be solved in our State namely corruption and respect for human rights. Actually, our Kachin State is one of the richest states in Myanmar as there are many natural resources in our State. However, the citizens are getting poorer and poorer because of the war, corruption and exploitation by the military and the Chinese. That's why we need to stand up for our State. If we don't care about our State, everything from our State will be gone for the next generation. We hope for the day when there will be no more IDP camps in our State.

Reflecting on my heart breaking visit to the IDP camps I consider myself very fortunate that I have the opportunity to study at Fr. Neil's Higher Education Center in Mandalay. This is possible for me and the other 90 students at the HEC because of funding for several years from benefactors. I will show my gratitude to them by teaching the marginalized in our country when I graduate.

Peter, a third year student at the HEC, shared this story with Columban Fr. Neil Magill.