By Francesca Merlo
Warm hearts surround the girls of St Mary’s Home. On the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, 126 girls have been taken in by the Servite Sisters of Madona Province. Myanmar’s civil wars have orphaned many of these girls. Poverty leads others to the home. But 8 sisters, fueled by compassion and the guidance of the late Fr Singa Rayar – instrumental in founding St Mary’s - have given them a home, a family and hope.
Riches from a penniless farm
Myanmar’s economy is still developing. Money is scarce and donors even more so. But in this 50-acre farm, the sisters and girls have developed a self-supporting system. They grow all they need, and using only products from their farm and their two gas stoves, wood oven and open fire, manage to cook for almost 150 people daily.
No conflicts in St Mary’s
In the predominantly Buddhist country of Myanmar, home to over 100 ethnicities, peace does not yet prevail. St Mary’s Home is, however, the peaceful home to dozens of Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Burmese, Arakanese, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Wa and Indian girls. Though Myanmar became a democracy 2015, numerous conflicts still rage on.
Their faces are coloured with Thanaka, a paste derived from trees. Protecting them from the sun and freshening their skin, Thanaka, dating back to the 14th century, is used by boys and girls of all ages and shines light on a beautiful, natural tradition.
The girls are looked after from the young age of three until they have finished their studies. They all attend school, and those who are able to do so go on to study at university. Those who are not, for whatever reason, are given vocational training – they are taught hotel management, first aid, knitting, sewing, embroidering, IT skills and cooking.
Whether they attend university or not, the sisters at St Mary’s accompany them until they have found a job that allows them to apply their newfound skills.
A melodic sound, a harmonious sentiment
Noel, a famous Myanmar musician, teaches them “step by step, with his heart”. He is introducing these 120 girls to music, and given that his dream is to “create a successful music group with orphan and poor children” it would seem that they inspire him as much as he inspires them. Music is therapeutic. The melodies the girls make together through music open the door to harmony in their lives.
Returning the love received
The alumni of St Mary’s Home all hold the new and old members of the community close to their hearts. They visit and send equipment over whenever they can and seek guidance from the Sisters who raised them, long after they have left and settled elsewhere.
Hope for the hopeless
Through love and empathy, St Mary’s home in bringing light into the worlds of these young girls whose blue skies have been clouded for so long by the horrors of misfortune and injustice.