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Volunteers respond to medical, emotional needs in Myanmar

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placeholder May 19, 2008   •   VOL. 46, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA
Volunteers respond to medical,
emotional needs in Myanmar

Survivors of Cyclone Nargis get food from a local donor in a village destroyed by the cyclone, south of Yangon, Myanmar, May 12.
CNS photo/Reuters

YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) — Small teams of doctors, nurses and volunteers organized by the Catholic Church in Myanmar have been visiting cyclone-affected areas to offer medical care.
A team of 40 began visiting parishes in the Archdiocese of Yangon May 12 to offer moral support and medical care and to gather data on people’s needs and the extent of the damage from Cyclone Nargis, which hit southern Myanmar May 3.

Father Noel Naw Aye, archdiocesan project coordinator, told the Asian church news agency UCA News May 14 that “this medical group will help with severe illness, injuries and treat cholera.”

Another church team of a priest, a doctor and some youth volunteers set off for Labutta, a devastated Irrawaddy delta area in the Pathein Diocese, about 100 miles southwest of Yangon. Father Naw Aye said this team also will offer medical treatment and deal with other needs, depending on the situation.

In an e-mail obtained by Catholic News Service May 14, a church worker helping to train the volunteers expressed the emotional pain volunteers have faced while assessing the situation. The worker, who spoke on the condition on anonymity, wrote the e-mail after several days of visiting some of the worst-affected areas.

Myanmar “weeps today and the tears of the innocents wound our sensibilities. I have seen the suffering of these graceful people,” said the worker. “When nature colludes in compounding their agony, (the) heart gets mutilated with despair.”

The worker said the cyclone came “in a sadistic show of shock and awe” and “attacked the hapless men and women at night, attacking them from the seas, river and from the air. Menacingly howling winds at a blistering pace tore through (the) settlement, as fighter bombs would have bombed.”

The worker described a child’s body floating in the water and women crying because they could not find their babies.

“It is a sad sight. To my eyes which have seen (the) tsunami (and) Kashmir earthquake, this is really overwhelming,” the worker said.

Father Dominic Thet Tin, executive secretary of the bishops’ conference, told UCA News May 13 that he offered guidelines to the doctors and nurses on helping people in need regardless of their religious affiliation.

Sister Angelina Reuben of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, who works the Church’s national Karuna Myanmar Social Services, told UCA News May 12 that “the main aim of the nuns is to offer medical assistance, data collection and to give moral support.”

Sister Angelina suggested that the nuns could devote more time to the mission than could lay volunteers, who might need to take care of their own family matters. She praised the doctors who work at government hospitals but were volunteering their time in the parishes.

In addition to sending medical teams, Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon plans to send seminarians from different dioceses to do relief work in cyclone-affected areas. A small Catholic Church volunteer group from the Yangon Archdiocese that arrived within days of the cyclone began assisting the 3,000 residents of the village about 75 miles southwest of Yangon that was accessible only by boat, given the trees, downed electricity pylons and other cyclone debris blocking the roads.

Partially flooded fields were filled with the decomposing bodies of people and cattle. Other bodies float past in the river. U.N. officials have said up to 100,000 people are either dead or missing.

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