An unexpected visit in the midst of COVID 19 pandemic

“The Lord delights in those who put their hope in His unfailing love. (Psalm 147: 11)
Amid the difficulties of COVID - 19 pandemic, God’s loving and provident presence continues to show His compassionate love to the Sisters, poor families, girls and children of the FMA communities in Yangon Division through the kind visit of German Ambassador to Myanmar, Mr. Thomas Karl Neisinger.
In the morning of 31st July, Mr. Neisinger arrived in Auxilium community where the Sisters and students of Food and Home Management Vocational Training Center welcomed him and his entourage with joy. With him were Mrs. Mriana Knirschi, Counsellor and Head of Development Cooperation Department and Mr. Tomasz Schwarz, Beiersdorf (Myanmar) of NIVEA and Hansaplast Company.  They had a tour of the school and the Sisters shared to them the mission and varied activities of their community. After a quick coffee and teabreak prepared by the students,   they proceeded to St. John Bosco Community, Hlaing Thar Yar where the lovely and excited children waited for Mr. Neisinger’s arrival. He and his companions were welcomed with joyful songs and dances. Seeing the children, Mr. Neisinger asked them if they are happy to come to the Sisters’ place. The children with one accord gave him a thunderous “Yes” and upon hearing this he was moved to tears. He told the children the value of learning and assimilating everything that the Sisters taught to them. Moreover, he encouraged them to value, treasure, appreciate and live the knowledge they have acquired. The Ambassador and his companions had a great time being the children even to the point of playing with them. The children brought home with them some stationaries and food items to be shared with their families.
The Sisters shared to the visitors all the educative activities they carry out during the school year and showed the classrooms where the children are taught.
After a quick taste of some Burmese traditional snacks, Mr. Neisinger and companions went to visit some poor families of the kindergarten children who are living in the BOC traffic slum area. The visit gave them a glimpse of the educative and charitable work that the Sisters are doing to uplift the dignity of the poor children. Mr. Neisinger was impressed and expressed his great appreciation for the selfless educative service that the Sisters are carrying out for the poorest and marginalized ones especially in this difficult moment of COVID-19.
At the end of his visit he assured the Sisters of his desire to collaborate with them in this mission of helping the needy ones because he said “The world is like a big human family and we are asked to unite as one. So if one is in need, another one must help out.” Being the 30th Anniversary of the unification of Germany this year, the German government has expressed its willingness to unite not only with the countries belonging to the European Union, but also to unite with the Myanmar people.
The Sisters were captivated by the Ambassador’s simplicity, humility and his heart to reach out to those who are living in one of the abandoned areas in Hlaing Thar Yar especially in this time of pandemic.
It was indeed a timely visit in this time of pandemic that gives the Sisters and the children a sense of hope knowing that there are people who truly care for the poor and the least.

Consultation with Food and Hotel Experts

As required by a current project of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians with Catholic Mission Australia, the Vocational Training Team of the Sisters, together with the Provincial, Sr. Jessica SalvaƱa, met with experts/consultants last July 3, 2020 at Don Bosco School in Teuk Thla. This was to solicit opinions and advice from the experts regarding their new Food Technology and Hotel Services Course (FTHS) which would be offered at Tuol Kork next year.

The animator of the Tuol Kork Community, Sr. Amanda Alvarando, Sr. Sovathanak Tang, Sr. Maria Elena Estacio and Sr. Blanchi Sambrea, Sister-in-Charge of the FTHS Course at Teuk Thla, attended the meeting. Unfortunately, Sr. Jessica was not well and so she had to stay in her room and join the participants on-line. To start, Sr. Blanchi led the group into prayer to the Holy Spirit and then Sr. Sovathanak welcomed the consultants/experts. Sr. Maria Elena introduced the consultants who were mostly French: Mr. Mansour Choueri, owner of Aroma (Lebanese) restaurant, Mr. Frederic Daudu, now teaching English (for hotel services) at St. Paul Institute in Takeo and Fr. Francois Dermont, an expert baker and cook; the Filipino couple Martin and Hannalyn Bandalan who owned the “Waffle Magic” Shop at Aeon Mall, Bro. Martin TanTai, SDB and two teachers from the Don Bosco Hotel School in Sihanoukville and the Sisters’ past pupil Buth Vannda who worked as sales manager of Angkor Paradise Hotel in Siem Reap. Then Sr. Blanchi presented to them the Food Technology and Hotel Services curriculum to which they gave their reactions and very useful comments/feedbacks.

The consultants also shared some of their experiences in the food and hotel business from which the Sisters and teachers learned much. When the meeting was over, Sr. Jessica thanked them all and they gathered for lunch with the VTC Team and some Sisters of the Teuk Thla community. It was a very enlightening morning and the consultants offered their services to teach or volunteer and do other services for the school. They were happy that the Sisters organized this meeting where they were able to help streamline the school curriculum and give suggestions for a well-planned kitchen and trained staff. But more importantly, the occasion gave the group a chance to know each other and share concerns regarding their common profession and field of work.

Sr. Vich Saren: New FMA Novice in Cambodia

We are living an extraordinary period in contemporary history – that of the Covid 19 pandemic. This catastrophic moment has affected almost every aspect of life in the planet. Even the formation of the novices of the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco.

Take the case of Sr. Vich Saren Teresa. Normally she should be in the Philippines with her co-novices from different parts of Asia. They would all be in the Novitiate House of the Sisters in Canlubang, Laguna, a province near the city of Manila. But due to the pandemic, Sr. Saren, who made it to the novitiate after an extended postulancy here, could not get a flight back to the Philippines, like many other people wanting to travel.

Well and good, this gives us, especially the Salesian Family in Cambodia, a chance to know Sr. Saren more. She comes from Somroung  Village in Battambong Province where she was born on September 7, 1989. Her father is a farmer and her mother is a plain housewife and mother to six children, Saren being the third.
“I come from a family where we follow the Buddhist teachings. In fact, when we were yet small, we would sit down in the prescribed way after our dinner and listen to the sermon of the monk from the radio. Not only that, my parents are very faithful in the practice of their Buddhist faith; they go to the pagoda often,” Sr. Saren adds.

“In 2008, I came to stay with the Salesian Sisters in Battambong to continue my high school in the city. I was touched by the way the sisters lived and how they served the young. In 2009, I joined the catechism class in the parish and then I moved to Phnom Penh for my Teacher Training Course. After completing the catechism course in Phnom Penh I was baptized in 2012.

 “The reason why I joined the Salesian Sisters is because I felt the call to follow Jesus, and as a teacher at Don Bosco School in Teuk Thla, I loved more the mission of the Salesian Sisters in educating and helping to uplift the lives of poor young people. I felt an intimate call of God in this way, and I consider this ‘my first love!’

On one ocassion, during the Khmer New Year holidays, my family and relatives were gathered together for a celebration. Suddenly, there appeared a poorly-dressed young woman who looked just about 19 years old, carrying  her two sons -  one on her hip and the other in her arm. Both boys had no clothes on and she said that she was three months pregnant. She was asking for some money and food for her children and said her husbend was a drunkard. We helped her and when she left, I felt so disturbed in my heart, and a voice from within me was asking ‘what will happen to the children?’ Up to now, from time to time in my prayer, the picture of the three and this question flash back in my mind. And I believe that the voice asking ‘what will happen to the children?’ is God’s call for me.

I decided to respond to this call and joined the Salesian Sisters. I did my first fomative years in the Philippines and lately, on May 24th this year (2020), I was accepted as a novice. I feel I am so blessed by God  in calling me to follow Jesus as a Daughter of Mary Help of Christians.

The Provincial Superior of Cambodia-Myanmar, Sr. Jessica Salvana, looks after Sr. Saren’s studies and formation at the moment. She teaches her about Salesian Consecrated Life.


(2nd Wave of Distribution)

The month of May was quite a busy one for the Sisters of Cambodia and Myanmar who putting on their aprons eagerly and joyfully prepared the food supplies to be distributed to 1900 families (900 in Myanmar and 1000 in Cambodia).

The second wave of distribution of food provisions to the families economically affected by the COVID 19 pandemic in Cambodia and Myanmar was made possible through the aid of Caritas Humanitarian Aid and Relief Initiatives, Singapore (CHARIS). The funds received from CHARIS provided each recipient the basic food essentials composed of: 25 kilos of rice, 10 canned goods, 15 packs of noodles, l liter cooking oil and 6 bottles of fish sauce.

The Salesian Sisters were in full synergy with CHARIS to be their extension in providing these families the basic food essentials. Some recipients came to the Sisters’ school to receive their food supplies which could last for about three weeks while others have to be visited in their respective places. Taking the risk with courage and great trust that they are under the protection of Mary, Help in this difficult times, the Sisters took the daunting task of going and reaching out to the families where a majority of them are found in great need of food provisions. Truly, their presence made hope a reality for these families who are at the point of hopelessness.

Reaching Out in Goodness and Solidarity

With the growing concern of the economic implication of the COVID – 19 crisis, the Mary Our Help Province (Cambodia-Myanmar) took the challenge of attending to the needs of the poor families of our schoolchildren who are adversely affected by the crisis.  Due to the crisis, some factories, where a majority of our parents are working, have been closed. The closure has placed many poor families in a difficult situation. With the suspension of classes, the children (kindergarten and elementary pupils) who were provided with a free, nutritious lunch meal in school, have been deprived of this meal.
Moreover, in Yangon, Myanmar in particular, being the most populated city in Myanmar with the lockdown of the houses and factories, our neighbors and our contact people like trickshaw drivers (47) families and some families of 2008 Nargis Cyclone hit villages (Wartaya and Leikon) are very much affected for earning their daily wages. Finding themselves in such a difficult situation, with no work and no wage, families have no income to buy the basic necessities and food for daily sustenance.
Given this reality before us, the 9 FMA communities in Cambodia and Myanmar decided to take the initiative to help these families providing them with some basic food supplies to sustain them for some weeks during this challenging crisis.
Despite financial uncertainties, some of our generous friends and benefactors from Singapore, Hongkong, Germany and India willingly share whatever they can to the Salesian Sisters in Phnom Penh. Thus, enabling us to raise funds to procure food supplies for the neediest among the poor families. As soon as donations started pouring in, the Sisters of the Provincial House (Teuk Thla) committed themselves in preparing the food supplies made up of 10 kilos of rice, oil, canned fish, sugar, noodles, condensed milk which so far have reached more than 800 families (4000 individuals).

With the help coming from CHARIS (Singapore) the Sisters to reach out to 1900 families (9,500 individuals) in Cambodia and Myanmar providing them food supplies which could ease their hunger.

Other initiatives taken by two FMA communities in Myanmar (Production Centers in Yangon and Anisakan) are the production of masks and uniforms of healthworkers, especially the nurses who are attending to the people affected by COVID 19.

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