This report was posted on the Columban Members' website last Tuesday, 17 June. There are around 603,000 Catholics in Myanmar/Burma out of more than 58,000,000, 1.03% of the population. The Diocese of Pekhon, where the volunteer below is from,w as established in 2005 and has more than 37,000 Catholics, 8.3% of the overall population of 450,000.
This report is from a volunteer from Pekhon Diocese, Myanmar/Burma
We left Rangoon around seven in the evening and arrived in Laputta the next day at around 11 in the morning. A colleague of mine had previously assessed the area and we were tasked to distribute the needed items to the people situated in the temporary settlement area around the city.
Crowds waiting for supplies to arrive
When we arrived in the Monastery, we were expecting to meet and help 1500 people but we were only greeted by 700 people. Again, we distributed the food items that we had for them.
We continued on to our next destination, and distributed our items to those who were waiting. After going to the four assessed settlement areas, we still had some items left over so we drove around town looking for settlement areas to distribute our goods. We drove for hours but found the temporary settlement camps empty. We were very frustrated because we were thinking that we could have helped more people if not because of the government.
Families crammed into a small shelter
On the 27th we tried to hire a boat but to no avail. The villages we are trying to reach can only be reached by boat. On the 28th we finally succeeded in hiring a boat and we headed directly to our destination.
A village beyond recognition
Along the way, you can see dead bodies scattered along the riverbanks. Those bodies had been there for a month already. All of us in the group paused because of the sight we saw before us. Along the banks, you can see what is left of an entire village; basically nothing but scattered debris of houses and coconut trees lying around. The village is indistinguishable as landmarks had disappeared. In some of these villages, it was reported that only 3-4 people survived and the rest of their villagers are either dead or missingAs soon as we arrive in Thin Gan Gyi Village Track, the villagers started running to us. We were surprised to see many people back in their village. They don’t have the basic necessities such as food, water, clothes, shelter, or cooking utensils. We were even more surprised to see soldiers in the area. We were asked by the soldiers who we are and what we are doing there. They were as surprised for we were we the first group from the outside to arrive in their area. After a tense conversation with the soldiers, they allowed us to continue. They said that they are there to protect the village. Protect them from what? That we do not know! We came to know that they were there for 17 days and their military base is sending them a week’s ration of food and water, but nothing for the people that they say they are trying to “protect”. Lies!
This Village Track is composed of 10 smaller villages consisting for a total of 3200 people. Only half of the entire population survived the disaster. They are now back in their village. The dead remain unburied.
Getting safe drinking water is also an enormous challenge, as is food and medicines. The villagers take a 2 hour boat ride to a nearby village to fetch water for their villagers. We have been able to provide them with 7 gallons of fuel when they were transferred from the settlement camp back to their village. This will not bring them far but we have no more fuel to offer them. It is so sad as they may be stranded or lost at sea in their search for clean drinking water for their villagers. They have put their own lives at risk for others.