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Catholic student helps relieve children's suffering in Myanmar
Children in eastern Shan Burma Study on the Floor. Courtesy of the International Theological Institute.
Children in eastern Shan Burma Study on the Floor. Courtesy of the International Theological Institute.
By Kevin J. Jones
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.- Conditions in a Myanmar children's prison are causing major suffering and malnutrition among its young prisoners, says a Burmese Catholic student working to make a difference.

Chan Thawng, a student at Austria’s International Theological Institute, recently told the school of his visit to the Children’s Prison in Nahawsan, Kawh Hmuu Township. He said about 2,000 children between 10 and 18 are imprisoned there, where they are divided into groups of 500.

“Many children are put into prison because they are thieves, or because they killed their neighbors' (animals) as their parents cannot give them enough food. They are hungry and they steal and become thieves and they are put into prison,” said Thawng. “I am so sad to see them.”

Thawng, the founder of two charities in the country, reported that he and his co-workers had sought to visit the prison for over a year, but a local authority allowed him to secretly visit the imprisoned boys in October 2011.

“The government does not give them enough food in prison and they are thin and malnourished. We went and gave them food: rice, meat and chicken, potato, breads, and sweets.”

The visitors donated books, pens and pencils for the children’s basic education. They also shared the  message of Christianity with them and encouraged them by singing Gospel songs.

His group is now trying to visit the other children in prison and to visit the women’s prison.

Many young girls and women are imprisoned because of prostitution, which they take up because they are impoverished and cannot get jobs.

“Some young girls are asked by their parents to become prostitutes, as that is the only way they can get money for food,” Thawng said.

He prayed that God will help the suffering children and suffering young girls “more and more,” he told the International Theological Institute.

The institute, a Catholic school of theology, grants degrees from the Holy See for the study of theology and for specialized studies on marriage and the family. The institute says it aims to be a “living experience of the Church universal” and a place of exchange between diverse cultures. Its students come from around the world.

The Greek Fathers and Thomas Aquinas serve as the institute’s central points of reference, appealing to both the Eastern and Western traditions of the Church.

Thawng said he went to study at the institute because of the many divorces in his country, even among Christian families.

“I see the number of suffering children increase day after day. It is not easy to find a happy family, especially in villages.”

He thinks his studies will help him solve these problems.

Since his deceased father was Catholic and his mother is Protestant, Thawng reported, he had “grown up between two beliefs.” His studies will help him learn more about Catholic doctrine, he said.

Thawng began the Shelter for Suffering People and New Eden Education Help after his summer holiday journeys in Myanmar when he traveled from village to village to speak about the Word of God.

“In many villages, I saw that there were no Christians, no school, and the children were poor and uneducated. Often there were no toilets and the villagers would take a bath once a week without soap.”

In some villages with schools, children were too poor to attend.

Thawng himself comes from a “very poor family” and his father died when he was ten.

“As the only son of a widow, I had to overcome many difficulties and problems in order to study and graduate. When I was seventeen years old, I heard God’s call and followed Him,” he said. “I could not go on living without sharing the Gospel with others.”

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