The center aims to tackle 'new forms of poverty' in the Chinese territory, says priest
Father Michael Cheung, parish priest of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Macau, in seen in front of a center that assists disadvantaged students with special education support. (Photo: Jornal-O-Clarim)
A Catholic parish in Macau has launched a center to offer support service to students from poor and disadvantaged families who require special educational assistance.
Our Lady of Fatima Church has opened the center named Os Três Pastorinhos (Three Little Shepherds) to institutionalize voluntary efforts to support students with special educational needs carried out for years by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary congregation, said parish priest Father Michael Cheung.
Father Cheung told Macau’s Catholic newspaper Jornal-O-Clarim that he has applied for a license from Macau authorities to run the facility with the support of more volunteers.
The priest said they are trying to tackle a “new form of poverty” in Macau that is hidden from public eyes.
He noted that many parents from Macau have low-paying jobs in mainland China who need to travel to and from Macau frequently to earn a living. Their children are left in Macau and their education often remains neglected.
“People tell me that there is no poverty in Macau. Everyone has something to eat, a place to live, something to wear. But we have many dysfunctional families. We have parents who must cross borders several times a day. They live in mainland China and have to come to Macau several times a day to take care of their children,” the priest said.
“This person must cross the border six times a day. I don't think anyone can imagine how disruptive all this is. These people need a lot of help. In a sense they are very, very poor. They cannot live their lives in a normal way”
Father Cheung said he knows a person who has four little children who leave school at different times.
“This person must cross the border six times a day. I don't think anyone can imagine how disruptive all this is. These people need a lot of help. In a sense they are very, very poor. They cannot live their lives in a normal way,” he said.
The center currently offers after-school education to 12 youths with the support of two teachers, and it will gradually take in more students, the priest said.
“We offer an after-school service for children with special educational needs. The aim is to help take care of children who need help. It is something that makes a great contribution to families. It is this type of service that helps to build the community,” said Father Cheung, a member of the Institute of Incarnate Word religious order.
Several years ago, a Franciscan missionary nun undertook a voluntary service to tend to the increasing number of students in Macau who require special educational support.
“The nun retired over a year ago and the church now wants to continue her work,” said Father Cheung, a chaplain of church-run St. Joseph’s College, next to Fatima Church.
Few years ago, Education Commission of Macau Diocese asked church-run education institutes to take special care of students from disadvantaged families, but the institutes have been unable to render services due to a lack of manpower and resources.
Father Cheung said they are running the center informally with limitations.
“Currently we are supporting 12 students, but in future we want to take care of many more children and young people. We need to obtain a training license to operate it in the most structured way possible. Since we don’t have the license yet, we cannot take children,” he said.
Fatima Church is one of the nine Catholic parishes of Macau Diocese in the former Portuguese colony where Catholics number about 30,000 in an estimated total population of 700,000.
Despite being one of the world’s richest places thanks to its massive gaming and gambling industry, about 10 percent of people in Macau live in poverty, Borgen Project reported in 2017.
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