What a summer! For those of us who live in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States, summer has been punctuated by heat, humidity and rain almost every weekend. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to the fall -- the cooler weather and almost anything that tastes like pumpkin spice.
What I NEVER look forward to though is the massive school supply list that inevitably has me spending a good deal of time (and money), traveling from store to store in search of the perfect pens, specific colored sticky notes, boxes of tissues and hand sanitizer.
As I shop, I often think about families who can’t afford the items on their school-supply lists, or about kids who are homeless or ill, or out of school for some other reason. And, I’m reminded about the lack of educational opportunities for children in the Missions.
Note to self: complain less and count your blessings!
Earlier this summer, I had the chance to reach out to Sister Jancy Selvaraj, a Presentation Sister working in northern Thailand among tribal children.
Some 80,000 Akha and Lahu people live in Thailand's northern provinces on the mountain slopes bordering Myanmar. These indigenous hill tribes have fled civil wars in Myanmar and Laos. They live in remote villages in stilt houses made with natural materials. There are very few schools in this area, and those that are nearest to the villages require uniforms and school fees. Sister Jancy and the Fang Catholic Mission Center are working to make sure as many tribal children as possible can attend school by subsidizing the cost of uniforms, meals, school fees – even transportation.
Sister Jancy, who is also a registered nurse, has worked in that part of Thailand for seven years. “Our main aim is to empower vulnerable tribal communities and improve their quality of life through Catholic Faith Formation, education, and skills training,” she said.
Some of the most pressing social issues in this region are drug addiction and human trafficking. Many tribal families lack citizenship cards as well. This hinders them from receiving access to government benefits, such as higher education, health care and civil protection.
During the weekends at the Mission Center, staff teach religious education and sponsor prayer groups. “Children enjoy regular recreation, learn music and their own tribal languages so that they can participate well in the liturgical celebrations in their village chapels with their families and village community,” said Sister Jancy. The Sisters also offer health and hygiene lessons.
Sister Jancy indicated that many young “graduates” from Fang Catholic Mission Center have gone on to become teachers, nurses and professionals. Others, like catechist Pinnappa Chayue, have returned to the Center to serve on staff.
When asked what she likes most about being a MISSIO project leader, Sister Jancy responded, “The MISSIO platform helps to connect people around the world to support those who are in need.”
This year, in the midst of the craziness of "back to school," there's a group of children and their loving "Sister" who'll remain top of mind and on my list of supplies to send for a new school year.
Hi there! I'm Patty from Team MISSIO! I left my life in the for-profit sector some 15 years ago to join the Pope's missions and haven't looked back since. My love of the Mission Church was inspired by my grandfather, an avid reader of both National Geographic and MISSION Magazine. I draw inspiration each and every day from the missionaries I meet who live their lives in service of the Gospel. Sign up for "Patty's Picks" - and I'll see you to share more soon!