UCA News


Outdoor lessons first step for Mandalay street kids

Poor children offered chance of a better future through Good Shepherd Sisters' outreach program

Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Outdoor lessons first step for Mandalay street kids

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)

Share this article :
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.

Homeless boys in Mandalay are offered help by the Salesians, who have their own outreach program and center.

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.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM


Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."