Sister Lina Na Po of Sisters of Charity prepares to test the blood pressure of a patient at a clinic in Naung Kan leper colony near Kengtung in Myanmar's Shan State on March 9. (ucanews.com photo)
A Myanmar nun has spent nearly half her life caring for lepers. “I accept that God is using me to take care of his children who need special attention,” says Sister Lina Na Po.
With her calm, smiling face and devotion to her cause, the 59-year-old Sisters of Charity nun is on her second assignment at church-run Naung Kan leper colony near Kengtung in Shan State after returning there early this year.
After becoming a nun aged 26 in 1987, Sister Na Po was assigned to Loilem in Taunggyi Archdiocese in Shan State, where she first came into contact with leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease.
After four years, she assumed she would not be treating lepers again, but she was then assigned to Naung Kang leper colony, where where she spent 18 years.
In 2010, she was assigned back to Loilem until she was transferred to Mong Pawk parish in the Wa hills region of Shan State in 2016.
However, she and two other nuns were forced to leave the troubled region last November after being threatened with arrest by Wa officials. The China-backed United Wa State Army has been clamping down on Christianity.
Sister Na Po was delighted to receive another call to give service to the Naung Kan leper colony. “I am happy to be back at Naung Kan where I spent nearly two decades and it is like being back home,” she says.
She recalled that when she was first assigned to Naung Kan, she used to carry patients to a government-run hospital. “As I become older, I cannot carry the patients, but I try my best to care for them,” she says.
The nun, who is in charge of the colony's clinic, helps treat nearly 100 long-term residents, some as old as 80. Nuns provide food, shelter and medical support to patients, some of whom receive financial support from children working elsewhere.
Most patients are Catholic but others are Buddhist and animists who are ethnic Shan, Lahu, Akha, Palaung, Wa and Chinese.
Leprosy is still a problem in Myanmar as new cases are found. Abandoned by their families and relatives, lepers often have no one to care for them.
Sister Na Po did nursing training in Yangon and gained practical experience in a Muslim hospital there. She also learned how to give treatment to patients at the Christian leper hospital in Mawlamyine in southern Myanmar.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says leprosy is a chronic but not highly infectious disease. If left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Medical programs using multi-drug treatments have reduced the number of disease-afflicted people around the world.
Myanmar is one of 16 countries still reporting more than 1,000 new cases of leprosy a year. Myanmar achieved the WHO leprosy target in 2003, meaning fewer than one in 1,000 people are infected. But at least 3,000 new cases of leprosy are reported every year.
“Time flies quickly and I thank God for giving me the chance to serve people with Hansen’s disease for 30 years,” says Sister Na Po.
She belong to the Sisters of Charity of Saints Bartolomea Capitanio and Vincenza Gerosa congregation, which was founded in Italy in the 1830s and arrived in Myanmar almost a century ago.
The congregation now has 196 nuns serving in six dioceses. Their mission includes a home for the elderly, leper colonies, boarding schools and orphanages.
Watch this ucanews.com video for more on the Naung Kan leper colony: