Sister Natalina Misa from the Sisters of Charity helps a mentally handicapped woman at the Holy Infant Jesus Center for the Disabled and Orphans in Phaya Phyu village near Taunggyi in Myanmar's Shan state on March 11. (ucanews.com photo)
In a small village in Myanmar's Shan State, 13 nuns have been working for decades to show local adults and children that having a physical or mental handicap does not preclude them from living a functional life.
The nuns provide a range of services from physiotherapy to providing orphans and students from poor families with a formal education.
They care for 198 people from various religions — mostly Catholics, Baptists and Buddhists — drawn from numerous ethnic groups including Shan, Pa-O, Bamar, Lahu, Tamil, Akha, Chin and Karen.
Some are visually or hearing impaired while others suffer from polio or epilepsy. Several are orphans, and a few have to be physically restrained lest they hurt themselves.
The nuns 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 center was built in 1963 and now cares for nearly 200 people from various religions and ethnic groups. (ucanews.com photo)
The congregation now has 196 nuns serving in six dioceses. Their mission includes a home for the elderly, leper colonies, boarding schools and orphanages.
But at the Holy Infant Jesus Center for the Disabled and Orphans in Phaya Phyu village, just five kilometers from Taunggyi town in Shan State, the focus is on people with special needs.
The nuns survive on donations, whether in the form or cash, rice, oil or other necessities. They also receive financial support from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement and from Myanmar’s Vice President Henry Van Thio.
"Most of the donors in Myanmar are Buddhists and some are Chinese," said Sister Natalina Misa, who runs the center. "We also have some sponsors from Thailand and a Buddhist monk from Japan."
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She said the monthly food bill alone costs around 6 million kyat (US$4,000). To make the center more self-sufficient and lighten the financial burden, the nuns grow corn, peanuts, beans, cucumbers, gourds and pumpkins. They also raise pigs and chickens.
In 2017, the sisters opened a clinic offering free medical services for all patients. Two medical volunteers visit twice a month to help out.
"We also teach children important life skills so that they can become model citizens," Sister Misa said.
One outstanding student was even sent abroad for further studies with the help of the congregation.
To help those with physical disabilities, the nuns built an "exercise house" with the aid of New Humanity, an Italian non-governmental organization.
The center was completed in 1963, three years after Bishop J.B. Gobatto from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions arranged for it to be built.