Eighteen of us mission partners from Singapore-Malaysia arrived in Yangon on the morning of 7 November. In the evening we met up with the Good Shepherd Sisters at the Convent. Sr. Genevieve briefly highlighted the works of the community. Given that they are located opposite the General Hospital the Sisters provide lodging and care for the sick who travel from other parts of the country to seek medical care at the hospital. The cancer and HIV patients make up the majority of the residents. There is a day care centre for 62 street children whose parents have migrated to Yangon in search of work. In the centre they are provided with meals, learning activities and a place to rest while their parents are at work. Young girls from various villages are selected for the Leadership Course where they are taught English, computer literacy, sewing and handicraft skills. Formation classes are conducted in the Convent for those aspiring to join the religious life.
Gloria started off on the role of lay partnership in the ongoing works of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Singapore-Malaysia. Her involvement as Justice and Peace Contact Person since 2006 has seen her evolve from taking on a role that was totally new to her to a fervent advocate of Justice and Peace. Magdalene gave a comprehensive introduction of the various works of the Good Shepherd in Malaysia and how it has evolved from the early days through the partnership of the Sisters with lay partners and lay staff. Sr. Lucy shared on their projects with lay partners in Singapore and she extended an invitation to the Myanmar sisters to visit and learn from the community in Singapore. Karen, a lay staff, who started as a volunteer with the Good Shepherd Welfare Services Malaysia, is now an Advocacy Officer. She found that working with the Good Shepherd Sisters was no different from working with any other lay staff. Karen said, “We get along well, and we work as a team. Each of us has our own experiences and skills which we can bring together for the good of the mission. We can do so much more when we work together and focus on what really matters, that is, helping the women and children in the margins.” Agnes also shared about her experiences as a lay staff of 12 years. She is the Account Executive with Good Shepherd Malaysia.
A visit to the Golden Rock perched at summit of Mount Kyaiktiyo was planned for 8 November. The Sisters and their lay staff were invited to join us. The four hour journey to the foothills gave us ample opportunity to get to know each other better. We ascended the mountain riding in a purposed built crowded open-topped truck which raced up the steep scenic route with wild swings similar to a roller coaster. Most of us have never experienced a ride like this as it was exhilarating and it was the highlight of the day.
After Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, a surprise awaited us. Ten out of the fourteen ladies whom we sheltered in Kuala Lumpur in 2009 met up with us. We visited their homes and met their families. We were treated to a delicious lunch of Moh Hin Khar, a traditional food, and fried noodles. We left with greater appreciation, awareness and humility of the resilience of the women we had once sheltered.
Moving on to day 4, we headed on a two and a half hour journey to Magyikwin village where the Sisters have established their ministry within the community They operate a day care centre and clinic for the children, and conduct tuition classes for the girls and women.
As we walked through the village to the day care centre, we could not help but notice that each household has at least a pig within their compound. We learnt that they are not pets, but an economic justice project by the church through the Good Shepherd. Each family was provided with a male and a female pig. The first two litters of piglets produced will be shared by the church and the villager on a profit-sharing basis. Any further litters produced subsequently belong to the villager. In this way each family will have some means of income.
As we reached the day care centre, we were greeted with squeals of joy and excitement as this was the first time that the children were visited by such a big group of people with gifts in tow. Truly the zeal and the act of loving the “least of these”, as Jesus said, was evident in what we saw that morning.
For lunch the Sisters prepared a feast for us; home-grown chicken, vegetables and fruits. We were then taken on a tour of the compound which includes the learning centre, a library, a sewing room and a hostel. Sr. Agnes briefed us on the need for solar panels to enable the students to have 2 hours of light daily to finish their school work. The money for the solar panels was donated by the Lay Associates of Kuala Lumpur together with other friends of the group. We also paid a visit to the parish priest, Father Wilfred, who lived a stone’s throw away from the Convent. Back to the Convent, we were delighted to meet a group of children with their teachers. They sang songs of welcome with all their hearts. Gifts were distributed to the children who could be seen walking back happily.
A one and a half hour bus ride to Dala, situated on the opposite side of the Yangon River, to visit another day care centre and nursery was the order of the day. The Sisters would normally travel daily by bus and then by boat to reach Dala. The children had been eagerly awaiting our arrival. Led by the school teachers the children performed a song and dance for us. The children’s eyes lit up when gifts and goodies were distributed to them. According to the Sisters, this was the first time that the children had visitors to their centre and it was the first time they held a gift in their hands! After a sumptuous lunch in the Yangon Convent, we were taken on a tour around the Convent grounds which houses the hostel for sick patients and their families, the day care centre and a hostel for the participants of the Leadership Course. Just before leaving for the airport, the Sisters dedicated ‘You are a Gift to Us’ a song specially composed by Sr. Elizabeth for us. These 5 days opened not only our eyes but our hearts to the people we met. We had always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives but what we have learned from this experience is that these people are the ones who made a difference in our lives.
The bonding and openness of the Myanmar Sisters with us during all our visits and meals indeed made us feel as ONE in this Good Shepherd Mission. They continue to serve their people with zeal and love. They do so much with so little.
Back home our conversations, our stories, our stirrings and our eagerness to ‘go beyond’ borders have not stopped. We cannot but nurture this friendship and mission and respond appropriately.
The group comprised of Sr. Lucy Chia, Melina, Magdalene, Pet, KC, Francis, Joanne, Robin, Mary, Emily, Wendy, Karen, Agnes, Eunice, Claudia, Felicia, Kin and Gloria.
Click here for more photos - Villages