A Catholic Monthly Magazine


Fr Frank BirdMarists on the Thailand-Burma border (3)

Each day I arrive at the Marist Centre, Ranong, on the border with Burma, and enjoy the sound of 200 children coming to school. Their laughs, smiles, growing sense of confidence and dignity are contagious. How they arrive with clean white shirts still amazes me.

After three years serving among Burmese migrants I have begun to hear the stories of students and HIV AIDS patients. There is a mixture of great sadness and joy in being a missionary among the poor. Deep joy is born out of deep struggle.

Marist Education Centre students

Marist Education Centre students

A twelve year old girl puts on her school uniform and packs her bag and begins to step out of the door and is stopped by her mother. ‘You need to go to work now.’ She responds, ‘Mum, I’m too young I want to continue my education.’ Her mother replies, ‘If you go out the door to school you can no longer call me Mum.’ She froze. What was she supposed to say?

She has had to overcome so many obstacles at such a young age, she works nights and weekends and has grown to be a talented teacher and now studies at our University Online Diploma Class. She says, with true determination and from painful experience, ‘only education can change my life for a brighter future.’

A small boy in the pre-school

A small boy in the pre-school

A teenager shares how he used to walk two hours to school each day in his home town in Myanmar. Before he went to school and when he returned he sold flowers on the street with his grandmother.

His father died on the dangerous fishing boats when he was seven. His mother and younger sister now work in the octopus fish processing factory in Ranong but cannot earn enough money.

After he finishes his school day with us at the Marist Centre Secondary Education Programme he works from 10pm until 1.00am every weekday and all weekend to support his family.

As I see tired students I am filled with compassion for them. They have had to overcome so many challenges to just arrive at the seat in front of me.

Fr Kevin Medilo sm

Fr Kevin Medilo sm

A young man of thirty-one lies on a rotting sofa in the rain outside his concrete room. The mess, smell, rubbish all around symbolise the depth of despair. His young wife and 5 day old baby are inside.

He stays outside so as to create a better space for his family. He was a fisherman spending many months on boats away from home. He had not known he had HIV AIDS. His wife found out she had HIV AIDS when 8 months pregnant.

We visit daily to clean him, provide some nutrition for the family and seek to ensure he can die with dignity. We help ring a friend for a final prayer, wash him and create a moment when he can see and touch his baby and be with his wife as he dies.

She says to us, ‘It was the worst situation in my life. There was nobody there for me, no family and friends. My family is a complete stranger, but you were there to support us.’

Older students helping the younger ones

Older students helping the
younger ones

Some of our preschool programme children have been abandoned, some have been adopted by friends. Parents may have left to find work elsewhere and left children with elderly grandparents.

One little boy was left with grandma after his parents separated and had new children. He walks the streets while grandma works all day at a fish factory. Friendly neighbours help get him to school.

He arrives without a uniform, shoes or lunch. He has a limp because he was beaten up by neighbourhood children. He arrives each day and waits by the office door in the hope of getting some food to begin the day. He was angry, itchy, and did not know how to use a toilet. He said bad words and tended to bully the other children.

Now he is polite, works with other students. He is full of questions: ‘why do I have to eat all of my lunch?’ He wants to know if he can save some of his lunch for his friend.

We know he loves school as he is the first to arrive at school and comes no matter how heavy the rain is.

As we begin each day at the Marist Centre, as we walk the streets to visit families, as we take to our hearts the stories, friendship, hardship, heat, suffering, we have the privilege of the Marist missionary experience of caring for the ‘most abandoned’ and lifting up the lives of the poor.

In a community that is mostly Buddhist we witness to the Catholic Church’s commitment to the poor and the search for justice. As Marists called to daily breathe the spirit of Mary and ‘think, judge, feel and act as Mary,’ we seek to create a ‘home’ as a mother does.  We welcome, we work tirelessly behind the scenes to grow within the world and church a community full of respect, compassion and service.

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