The Director of the Australian Salesian Mission Office, Br. Michael Lynch SDB, has recently returned from visits to Pakistan and Burma. Br. Lynch reports to the SNAP as follow:
I have just returned from a trip to Pakistan and Myanmar in mid-August. Pakistan was drenched. The floods, whichstarted in the northwest, have been described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as the worst natural disaster and human tragedy he has witnessed.
The Salesians have fewer than eight members in Pakistan, living in two small communities. One is in Quetta (south west) and the other in Lahore (south east). These two communities are not in the flooded areas so I didn’t see this tragedy first hand. However I met students who come from flood affected areas who told me of the devastation in their villages. In Quetta, Fr Peter Zaga and his fellow Salesians, together with students and teachers, are helping families in emergency accommodation with food and medicines.
Don Bosco Technical Institute Lahore proposes to help flood victims rebuild houses, after the water subsides. The Rector and Principal Fr Miguel Ruiz said that the students and teachers were keen to help construct houses especially as about half of the students in the school are from devastated areas.
The Don Bosco school in Lahore was started by Australian Salesian Fr Hans Dopheide just ten years ago with fewer than 20 students. Today there are more than 220 of whom 180 reside in the school’s hostel. Trade training is provided in carpentry, auto mechanics, welding, metalwork, electricity and refrigeration. More than 90 per cent of the graduates secure employment soon after graduation and several of the graduates are teaching in the school.
The school is therefore well placed to be involved in reconstruction after the floods have subsided. I told both Fr Miguel and Fr Peter that while we have prior commitments to sustain our work in Samoa, Fiji, Timor and other communities, ASMOAF will make a special effort to provide extra support in the current crisis.
After Pakistan I went into Myanmar where the Salesians have been working for more than 50 years. Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon is a Salesian. The relatively small Salesian presence is centred on parishes where people are living in extreme poverty. Their work focuses on community development self-help projects.
A good number of young men have joined the Congregation in recent years, most of whom are still pursuing their studies. At weekends many of these young Salesians and their friends involve themselves in organizing village based games and other recreational activities for youngsters. I was pleased to be able to leave a few soccer balls with them.
I feel that Don Bosco’s spirit is very much alive in Myanmar. The help we are able to give is greatly appreciated.