Sister Eugenia from the Good Shepherd congregation (left, front row) poses with villagers after giving a talk to raise awareness of human trafficking at the nuns' convent in Yangon Ywar near Tachileik on the Myanmar-Thai border in April 2018. (Photo supplied)
In a remote village near the town of Tachileik on the Myanmar-Thai border, a center run by nuns welcomes girls and women who are at risk of being trafficked or who live in fear of physical or sexual abuse.
Four nuns from a local chapter of the Good Shepherd Sisters launched the center in Yangon Ywar, Shan State, in 2017.
They run a residential program and provide a temporary shelter for vulnerable women while also offering vocational skills for their empowerment.
Sister Eugenia runs the residential center, which is now taking care of five Catholic girls aged 11 to 15, and is responsible for a program aimed at raising awareness of human trafficking.
Sister Theresa Kham, who cares for recovering drug addicts and helps teach schoolchildren, waters the convent garden on March 7. (ucanews.com photo)
Two are infected with HIV and one is a victim of domestic violence.
"The program is open to everyone regardless of race and religion," Sister Eugenia said.
The center cannot accept many girls this year due to financial constraints. "We are planning to accept another 15 girls and women next year. We are also conducting an outreach program," she told ucanews.com.
The nun said it is a challenge to deal with girls as many are emotionally damaged. "We need to be very careful when dealing with them as they need psychosocial support and suffer from depression," said Sister Eugenia, who also cooks their meals.
She said the nuns offer life-skills training, teach them about their rights and deliver vocational skills sewing and embroidery.
Those the center cannot accommodate are sent to other Good Shepherd facilities in Loikaw, eastern Myanmar, and Yangon as part of an exchange program.
The Rose Virginie Villa residential center for girls and women is pictured at the convent in Yangon Ywar. (ucanews.com photo)
Poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness
Sister Eugenia said in 2018 the center helped 19 young women who were trafficked in Malaysia reintegrate with their families.
"The Good Shepherd Sisters in Malaysia contacted us and asked if we could help the trafficked women in collaboration with local police," she said.
As part of a monthly program, the nuns reach out to 12 villages nearby. The villagers are mostly Akha Catholics.
"Poverty, lack of awareness and illiteracy are the main factors behind the human trafficking problem," said Sister Eugenia, adding that many parents send their young children to China in the hope of earning a better living.
Many young people also migrate to Thailand in search of employment.
The main ethnic groups in this region bordering Thailand are Akha, Lahu, Shan and Bamar. Among them are Buddhists, Baptists and Catholics. The ethnic Akha depend largely on traditional slash-and-burn agriculture.
The Good Shepherd nuns also teach dozens of students from nearby villages who visit the convent at night.
"We teach English and other subjects to buttress their school lessons," said Sister Theresa Kham, who also teaches painting.
The nuns also run a kindergarten and provide financial support to 70 students from Grade 1 to university level.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd Congregation was established in France in 1835 by St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier.
The order was introduced to Myanmar in 1866. It now has 51 nuns serving in five dioceses. They also run daycare centers for HIV-positive children and the children of parents living with HIV or drug addiction, and take care of street kids.
Their mission includes prison ministry, social outreach and advocacy on human rights, gender equality, child rights, justice and peace.
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