Myanmar: Fighting Death, Choosing Life

Faith moves mountains. After sixty days, the survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar are on a journey of resilience. The wounds inflicted by natural disasters take years to heal elsewhere. But the resilience of our people brings hope.

The memory of that fateful day is mercifully turning into efforts at resilience. And that is encouraging and sometimes really surprising. They were left to fend for themselves in the first two days amidst debris and death. For a full month, they lived among rotting dead bodies. Debris and the suffocating stink of decay was their company over a month. But heartrending stories of courage and resilience are emerging. Killer waves forced many parents to choose one child to another. In the camp in Aima, a woman narrated how she had to let go her new born child and saved the five year one. In those agonizing moments when the angry waves were snatching the two children, the mother made a choice – to sacrifice one to save the other. She made the choice, since the new born had not been emotionally bonded and lived with a memory; she let her go so that the other child who had friends and known love and expressed it could live.

In another place, two girls saved their little brother and one died in that ordeal. The boy was tied to the back of one of the girls and the two were being dragged by the waves. The elder one pushed the two towards the shores while she herself was devoured by the waves. ‘Whenever my little brother smiles, a tear rolls down my cheeks for the sweet sister who is no more with us’ says the survived sister. Profiles in courage chronicled through tears bring hope.

Our people are a proud and self dependant people. While post disaster traumatic symptoms are common place in many other areas of natural disasters, people of Myanmar show to the world why they are different. Myanmar has a long history of blood, battered ness and incremental sorrow. It was a bloody theater of war during the Second World war, and after the independence the chronic civil conflict left millions homeless and displaced. Decades of restricted living and lack of basic amenities has not deterred them to live in self dignity. Theirs is a resolute march of resilience.

The farmers are returning to their land. In villages like Aima, where they buried their pastor, Fr Andrew Soe Win, people knew a nagging eerie life will pursue them for months to come. In all the places they will live with the spirit of their kith and kin who perished. Simple women are emerging as the great healers. In tattered homes, they bring hope with calmness. Children have their uniforms and books back on their shoulders. Life is a mother, giving birth to a new creation and nudging her children to start again. Our people are turning out to be wounded healers, encouraging one another to start once again, like they did for years together through permanent disasters that confronted them in this country.

It is this journey that gives hope to the Church. The faith of our people is astounding. There are not many complaints against their creator. The churches are full again with these simple faithful people. Trauma counseling is a mega project after Tsunami. But our people are telling us that they can heal one another. Death courted them voraciously on that fateful night, but most of them are choosing life, refusing to be vanquished by the fury of nature or the neglect of men.

After two months, a sense of gratitude and fulfillment fills all of us. We were there to rescue them, feed them in the first week, console them in their moment of darkness. We are moved to tears when we see this people back again in their fields. Church walked with them in their moment of brokenness. We broke bread with them in their villages without homes and churches.

Support to their livelihood and shelter continues from the national Caritas and the Church. With the ensured the support of all of you, we are resolute to make their lives more dignified through greater livelihood options, decent living quarters and charting a hopeful future for their children. The deluge brought daring challenges but our people’s resilience is the greatest reward. And each one of you contributed in making that happens, is a sweet debt we owe to all of you.

In solidarity,

Charles Bo., SDB

Archbishop of Yangon