Letter from Archbishop Charles Bo of Myanmar

June 2, 2008 marks the start of the school year in Myanmar and also one month after Cyclone Nargis. However, for so many children there will be no school to go to. For the children in the delta region their lives have been turned upside down. Many of them lost their parents and their homes.

Last week I visited a village called Aima and some surrounding island villages called Pha-ya-lay-gone, Pein-ne-gone, Ta- yoke-gone, and Lein-maw-gone. Aima village is in Labutta township in the southern delta region and is very difficult to reach.

It took almost 10 hours to get there by boat. There, I met families who are still struggling to survive and feed their children. In this area all the schools have been destroyed. For the children of Aima, the horror of the cyclone still haunts them.

Many children cry at night and when it rains. The children fear the worst and re-live the trauma of the night of the May 2. In this village there are so many inner wounds that must be healed over time.

To date very little aid has been able to get to these communities. For the first two weeks, the only aid received by these people was from the Catholic Church.

They told me that without this, they would not have survived. The government now only supplies two cans of rice per person per day, which is not enough for people to live on. In some cases people have been asked by the government to leave temporary camps and return to their villages. In many of the villages there was still no shelter, food or clean water and the government only supplied them with a few kitchen utensils.

My trip to Aima also demonstrated how important it is for the Catholic Church to continue our work and ensure that we support communities as best we can. To date we have been able to supply food, clean water, tarpaulins for shelter, cooking utensils and medical supplies to approximately 20,000 people in Labutta township.

We now must continue to support them, firstly to survive but also in rebuilding their lives. The people I met remain modest in their requests, and ask only for food and shelter.

The start of the school year is also an important reminder that we must prioritize the needs of children who have been affected by Cyclone Nargis. The Church will play a role in ensuring that children are reunited with family members and are given toys and space to play in. We must ensure that children can also return to school as soon as possible. Without routines such as school and normal daily activities, children will find it much harder to heal and miss out of vital education.

On my recent trip, amidst so much death and destruction, the resilience of children was brought home to me by many stories that I heard.

In one case a lady called Veronica told me of how she and her three month old child were stuck in their house when a tree fell over and blocked the door way. The floodwater rose inside the house so she piled furniture up and climbed above the water. As the water level rose she had just her head and her baby above water and one foot left until the water reached the roof of the house. She remained like that until the following morning and the water gradually subsided. Veronica told me this story and then added that during this time her baby had not cried once.

I also heard the story of a five-year-old boy in the village of Lein-maw-gone. He had been separated from his family and when the floodwater rose he could no longer stand on the ground so he grabbed onto his dog. He held onto his dog as it began to swim. The dog kept swimming for hours until he could eventually bring the boy to the safety of dry land. Sadly, following this amazing feat, the dog died of exhaustion.

Having met the people affected by Cyclone Nargis and having seen the conditions they are now living in one month later, my recent trip left me with both hope and anguish. There is still a great deal of suffering. People need considerably more aid and help to survive and rebuild their lives. However, I am also optimistic that the Church can play an important role in meeting these needs. It is with this in mind that we must go forward, work together and serve those in need more effectively and to the best of our ability.

Archbishop Charles Bo

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