On the banks of the Irrawaddy River, Sister Patricia Nyein Chan (right) and a lay person help poor children write the Burmese alphabet. (ucanews.com photo)
A group of children gathered under a shady tree close to makeshift tents that provide shelter for poor people living on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Mandalay.
Ranging from two to 14 years of age, it was one of three days when the kids get the chance to learn through an outreach program run by the local chapter of the Good Shepherd Sisters.
From Monday through Wednesday, Sister Patricia Nyein Chan and two co-workers meet the children and provide them with some basic education.
Sitting on a tarp, the two lay staff taught the basics of Burmese, mathematics and English to some of the older children. Sister Nyein helped those younger with writing the Burmese alphabet.
The nun said they first taught the kids through writing the alphabet in the dirt before they did it in books.
“It took around six months for the children to cope with learning in a non-formal manner and we are patient with them,” Sister Nyein told ucanews.com.
The outreach program is the first step in offering the children a chance for a better future, the nun said. On other days Sister Nyein’s group similarly teaches street kids at a railway station in Myanmar's former royal capital.
“We make friends with the parents and we build trust with them so that they will send their kids to take part in the outreach program,” said Sister Nyein, who has worked on the street kids program since 2017.
Personal hygiene and ethics are taught as well. It’s a steady process through the outreach program and it takes months to change their behavior, she said.
One of the girls, May Zin, said she learns from the nun and the lay people near the river because her parents couldn’t afford to send her to school. Through the outreach program the 12-year-old said she was happy learning the basics of Burmese, mathematics, how to write and even some English.
She is also seeking some practical skills. “I want to learn sewing to make a living for my family,” May Zin told ucanews.com.
For May Zin this will be possible through the Good Shepherd sisters’ Child Empowerment program. Launched in mid-2016, the program provides temporary shelter, food, formal, non-formal and vocational training to girls at the nuns' center dedicated to the program.
Its ultimate goal is help girls become part of the mainstream society and have a better chance in life.
Lay staff lead children during a lesson along the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Mandalay. (ucanews.com photo)
The head of the program, Sister Emily Niang, said that while they offer the girls a family environment at the center, most don’t want to stay permanently. They are happier on the streets or they are forced by their parents to beg, she said.
“The parents know their children can get around 10,000 kyats (US$7) a day begging, so they don’t want school or pursuing vocational skills to get in the way of that,” Sister Nyan said.
Currently three girls off the street are pursuing a formal education and live in the nuns’ center while dozens come and go.
The center has a summer program for street kids who spend much of their day there Monday-Friday playing games, dancing, painting and watching videos.
Sister Niang said they are planning to accept more girls to live and learn at the center.
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 currently has 51 nuns serving in five dioceses.
They also run day care centers for HIV-positive children and the children of parents living with HIV or drug addiction. They likewise care for women who are at risk of human trafficking.
Their mission includes prison ministry, social outreach and advocacy on human rights, gender equality, child rights, justice and peace.