Meeting Father Patrick
The Church in Myanmar has always played a very important part in social issues (education, health, helping the poorest people, etc.). Until the military coup, it worked as an intermediary between the government and ethnic minorities, whom we support through our sponsorship programme. Father Patrick is one of our local volunteers. He is in charge of the welfare of 38 sponsored children. Isaure, our sponsorship programme manager in Myanmar, met this extraordinary individual in Pathein last February.
Text : Isaure Clement
The soul finds joy in taking action
Father Patrick could have invented this saying himself, borrowed from Shakespeare. He and our other Burmese volunteers share the same character traits: unyielding tenacity, perseverance to rebuild what has been systematically destroyed, and undying hope.
At the age of 50, Father Patrick has boundless energy. He is totally devoted to his parish in Pinle and has been the priest there for over 20 years.
We cannot help but admire Father Patrick’s complete devotion to his parishioners in Pinle and how hard he works for them. Pinle is not easily reached! Located on a small island at the southernmost tip of the Irrawady Division, it takes 4 hours by boat from the coastal town of Laputta to reach Pinle. It was devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, and the damage caused by the violent cyclone remains a traumatic event for the villagers.
The residents, mostly fishermen, lost everything, and they continue to live with that memory. They carry on the tradition of helping and supporting each other. Albeit being isolated, they are not indifferent to the fate of the rest of the country. They have supported Father Patrick in his latest project: sending some of the dried fish that the villagers live on to the civil war refugees in Shan State.
While Father Patrick holds great affection for his parishioners, it does not prevent him from being demanding with them.
« The residents of Pinle lack initiative. If I don’t push them they will not take on any responsibilities. How can I make them leaders of men ?! »
In response to this goal that spurs him on, the solution is education. Father Patrick wants to motivate his students by offering them a high standard of education. He also needs to earn the trust of their families who sometimes do not understand the point of going to school. He has funded the “tuitions”, private lessons essential to compensate for the shortcomings of the system but unaffordable for the poorest.
He also has criticisms of the Burmese educational system and its current government. During the protests that followed the military coup, he put his life and personal safety in jeopardy, and even wrote messages of support to the protesters on the church’s roof.
I am physically well, but emotionally and spiritually sick. I support the victims of the war in Myanmar
He wrote recently. Fortunately, Father Patrick has a childlike joy and a sense of humour even in the face of the most difficult circumstances – he is himself a living symbol of hope!
If you want to travel in Asia and give sense to your trip, get off the beaten track to find and enjoy more authentic experiences…. If you want to have a positive impact on the country you are visiting? Sponsoring a child and going to meet them is probably the best way to include your trip in an ethical, solidarity-based and long-lasting approach!