On a recent cloudy morning, nuns and some helpers were busy cooking at the St. Aloysius Center for the Handicapped and Orphans in Myanmar's Shan State. A mix of mentally and physically handicapped children had gathered outside the two-story building as a Catholic family were visiting from Myanmar's commercial hub and former capital Yangon. One of the children said happily that, as it was a nun's birthday, tasty burgers had earlier been handed out as a treat. Then Sister Elisabeth Khin Khin Htwe announced that the next full meal would feature fried rice and eggs. Three nuns are responsible for 47 children and women requiring care because of mental and physical problems, including visual impairment and conditions related to old age, at the Lashio Diocese
-run center in Nawnghkio town. Many residents are members of minority ethnic groups
such as Kachin, Shan and Chin and they are variously Catholics, Baptists and Buddhists.
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Sister Htwe said there was always a big workload as many of the children and adults at the center needed help to do even basic things such as bathing and dressing. "But we show our love and care by spending most of our time with them," she told ucanews.com. Some adults suffering from serious mental illness could pose a danger to themselves or others if they got hold of a knife or some other item capable of causing injuries. Two nuns fry eggs in a kitchen at St. Aloysius Center for the Handicapped and Orphans in Nawnghkio town in Myanmar's Shan State on Oct.22. (ucanews.com photo)
Sister Htwe recalled that a young Buddhist woman with a mental illness left the center and wandered along a railway line. "Some people found her and informed us, so we quickly went to fetch her as we were very concerned for her safety," Sister Htwe recounted. The nuns met with the girl's parents to try to explain aspects of her behavior, but they remained unwilling to take her back into the family. The church-run center is known among the people of Buddhist-majority Nawnghkio town and local administrators notify the nuns when they become aware of people in urgent need of care. Among youngsters at the center, one is a 3-year-old boy who was abandoned by his parents. A 4-year-old boy was born as a result of his mother, who lacks the power of speech, being raped. Two young visually impaired girls were sent to a center for the blind in Yangon. One visually impaired woman was able to obtain work there at a massage clinic. Sister Htwe previously had stints serving at the care center in Nawnghkio town in 2013 and 2016, each time gaining more practical experience. Between caregiving and engaging in prayer, as well as attending church services, time passed quickly, she said.
For older children unable to attend a local government-run school, some lessons and activities such as painting are offered. The nuns somehow manage to fit in the running of a kindergarten that mainly caters for Buddhist town children whose parents have onerous work commitments. The nuns accept 5,000 kyats (US$3.1) a month per child. However, because some of the parents can't even afford that amount, the nuns let them attend free of charge. Wheelchair-bound Rosy Ni Ni Myint, 33, who lost the use of her legs as a result of improper medical treatment, is a volunteer helper at the kindergarten. She arrived at the center in 1990 with Catholic Church
help. "It is like a new home to me as the nuns I have come to know show me love and a motherly spirit," Ni Ni Myint, a Buddhist convert to Catholicism, told ucanews.com. "I am happy to be staying here." Rosy Ni Ni Myint is a volunteer who helps out at the kindergarten at the Lashio Diocese-run center. (ucanews.com photo)
The center mostly relies on private donations and support from charitable organizations in Lashio, the largest town in Shan State, as well as from elsewhere in Myanmar. Some Buddhists give donations on their birthdays or important religious occasions, while there are Catholics who contribute food for meals and snacks. Meeting expenses of the care center can at times be a struggle, but Sister Htwe never loses faith that God will assist in overcoming financial and other challenges. Rather than requesting funding from Lashio Diocese, the nuns try to obtain more outside donations as well as earning extra money by raising chickens and running a small store. The center was established in 1977 by the then Salesian Monsignor Jocelyn Madden from Lashio Diocese with five dedicated nuns from the Franciscan Sisters of St. Aloysius Gonzaga.