Louisa May Chu says her life has been transformed by a group of nuns who helped her earn a living by sewing and embroidery. She is one of 78 women currently working in a center set up in 2000 by the Good Shepherd convent in Yangon Ywar to teach life skills, says the establishment's superior Sister Benedicta Philip. Nuns teach the women how to stitch and sew, iron and embroider, and also how to repair sewing machines and other equipment. Sister Christine Dah from Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd congregation in Yangon Ywar, Kengtung Diocese is in charge of the sewing program. She explains that the women learn about discipline through their experience of freedom and value control. Weekly inputs about Catechism, moral teaching and about women's issues are added during the course. “We do really want them to understand women’s rights and human rights. And we want them to become the leaders of the family, community and society,” said Sister Dah. May Chu 55, a former drug user and widow who is now living beside the nuns' compound at Yangon Ywar, said that as they were unable to get medicine, they used to take opium to relieve pains and sickness. “I have seven children but all have died except the youngest and my husband also died in 2002,” she said. It was very hard to quit opium, she added, and she still feels sick without it. May Chu said “I was unconscious when the Good Shepherd nuns visited my house seven years ago. I would have died without their help as I’ve no money and there’s no one to take me to the hospital. Nuns not only helped me to get relief from physical suffering but also have changed my mentality and solved all my psychological problems.” The main ethnic groups in this region bordering Thailand are Akha (the majority), Lahu, Shan, and Myanmar. Most people are tenants and among them are Buddhists, Baptists and Catholics. But the Akhas depend largely only on traditional-style slash-and-burn agriculture and most young Akha girls are sent to work as bar girls in massage parlors. Most of the men are addicted to opium and the bread earners are women. The money the earn is usually used to buy the opium and even in times of illness they do not have money to buy medicine. Poverty and illiteracy are the main problems for villagers living in the area. Many young people used to migrate to Thailand to earn a better living. Tin Win Mar, 28, a Baptist Akha ethnic girl said that as both of her parents have died she has to work at a teashop on the border. She was scared after hearing about a friend who was promised a good job. "But she was sold across the border of Thailand. She was kept in a cage at the beginning but luckily she has escaped.” Win Mar said this taught her a lesson and she returned to the village to work in the nuns' center and earn a living for her family and two small sons.
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