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Singapore Catholics spread love for poor beyond borders

CHARIS offers assistance to marginalized communities in Asian nations affected by Covid-19, natural disasters and poverty

Singapore Catholics spread love for poor beyond borders

A volunteer from St. Damian Parish in Batam, Indonesia, distributes food to a family with funds from CHARIS, the overseas humanitarian aid agency of Singapore Archdiocese. (Photo: Catholic News, Singapore) 

Taking to heart Pope Francis’ call to serve refugees and migrants with greater love and care, Catholic charities in Singapore are reaching out to vulnerable communities beyond borders despite Covid-19 travel bans and restrictions.

Hundreds of children from eight orphanages and boarding houses in conflict-torn Myanmar have received support for education and basic facilities such as a supply of pure drinking water.

The assistance runs through partnerships with the local Zetaman Sisters and the Canossian Sisters based in Myanmar under Project Micah, part of Caritas Humanitarian Aid and Relief Initiatives, Singapore (CHARIS), the umbrella body for overseas humanitarian aid of the Archdiocese of Singapore.

“The Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges, especially during this period when many of the boys’ parents lost their jobs. Some even had to leave their area due to restrictions and social distancing. In response, Project Micah initiated projects to deal with the crisis,” CHARIS said.

During the pandemic, the project has ensured the Myanmar children had better living conditions as funds were allocated for renovation and refurbishment to provide for more spaces in the boarding houses. A well and water tank were built to provide a steady supply of water.

Under the project, some land was purchased for a planting project to enable boarding houses to earn income from the sale of turmeric. Boys from orphanages are encouraged to take care of planting vegetables.

It seems inconceivable that there is a whole population looking for life in the rubbish of the rich

Children have been performing other chores such as cleaning up cemeteries and building a chicken coop. They have also distributed liquid soap to a village during the pandemic.

The project's food program offered children a piece of meat, eggs and milk once a week. They also joined in the distribution and packing of daily essentials for poor villagers that came through donations from others.

“Project Micah continues to be steadfast in fulfilling its mission's three pillars; to act justly to enable education for poor children, walk humbly together with poor children through sustainable efforts, and to love tenderly in meeting the humanitarian needs of poor children,” CHARIS noted on its website.

The CHARIS Hungry Poor Project and Focolare, a Rome-based international Catholic movement, have joined hands to support students of Pho Cap School in the Binh Thanh area of Ho Chi Minh City of Vietnam.

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Some 140 poor children have been attending this year’s class program in four classrooms in an area where many people scratch a living from rubbish dumpsites.

“Up to 25 people daily go through garbage from 5am to 11pm. It seems inconceivable that there is a whole population looking for life in the rubbish of the rich,” said Ms. Doan, the school principal.  

Since May 2020, Luigi Butori, director of social activities operations (Southeast Asia) of Focolare, has been involved in food distribution to needy families on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. About 8,100 people have benefited from the program and before the project ends this month the number of beneficiaries is estimated to reach 14,000.

“Despite the countless difficulties encountered on-site — the cramped conditions, rain, security, long distances — there remains a great peace and joy in our hearts to have participated, together with all of you, in a work that God himself had conceived. At the end of this life, Jesus will say to us: It was I, you did it to me,” Butori said.

During the pandemic, people in Bintan and Batam, two popular tourist destinations in Indonesia, have faced serious economic hardship as tourists stopped coming and many lost jobs when lockdowns were imposed. Many families struggled for survival as their income was lost and savings quickly vanished.

CHARIS raised funds and teamed up with St. Damian Parish in Batam to buy thousands of kilograms of rice, sugar, oil, eggs and noodles. From May to June 2020, 1,400 families in Batam and Bintan received food packages. About 7,000 masks and 3,500 sanitizers from a private sponsor were also distributed to the families.

Join us as we stand in solidarity and reach out to those afflicted by natural disasters and poverty — and make hope happen!

Besides reaching out to refugees and migrants, CHARIS has also been supporting families of victims and survivors of Covid-19 as well as natural disasters in various countries.

For poor communities affected by monsoon flooding in Bangladesh, it has pledged to send US$22,340 as humanitarian aid.

Earlier, it raised funds and channeled $297,900 to pandemic-hit India and allocated an additional $223,430 to support the procurement and shipment of medical equipment to India in collaboration with Singapore Red Cross.  

For Covid-affected Nepal, CHARIS joined with Caritas Internationalis and a member organization, US-based Catholic Relief Services, to provide funds for life-saving medical equipment and accessories including oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators and personal protective equipment to hospitals and health workers.

The agency invites people to join in their efforts as it aims to stand in solidarity with vulnerable communities. “Join us as we stand in solidarity and reach out to those afflicted by natural disasters and poverty — and make hope happen!”

This article uses material from a report published on Sept. 5, 2021, by Catholic News of Singapore Archdiocese.

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