Children unable to return to school in Myanmar, archbishop says

Geoffrey A Brooke Jr.

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With their lives still in a state of disarray, another reality has hit the children of Myanmar after a cyclone devastated their villages and towns.

June 2 marked the beginning of the school year, but in Aima, a village in the southern Irrawaddy delta region, "all the schools have been destroyed," said Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon in e-mails in late May and early June.

The archbishop said he believes that "the start of the school year is also an important reminder that we must prioritize the needs of children who have been affected by Cyclone Nargis." He called on the church to "ensure that children can also return to school as soon as possible."

In his e-mails, Archbishop Bo gave updates on the Asian country's state of affairs. After recently traveling 10 hours by boat to Aima, he also shared the stories of what he saw and heard from survivors.

"For the children of Aima, the horror of the cyclone still haunts them," said Archbishop Bo.

"Many of the children cry at night and when it rains. The children fear the worst and relive the trauma of the night" of May 2, when Cyclone Nargis hit, he said.

"Amidst so much death and destruction, the resilience of children was brought home to me by many stories that I heard," he said.

The archbishop recounted a story involving a 5-year-old boy who had been separated from his family in the cyclone. When the young boy could no longer stand in the rushing water, he clung onto his dog, who swam for hours and eventually got the boy to safety.

"Sadly, following his amazing feat, the dog died of exhaustion," said the archbishop.

Another story involved a mother and her 3-month-old baby. After a tree fell, blocking the door and making it impossible for the pair to exit their home, the mother began stacking furniture in order to stay above the rapidly rising water.

The two spent the night on top of the stacked furniture with their heads in the one foot of air left between the water and the roof. The archbishop said the mother told him "that during this time her baby had not cried once."

Many people in the area are being forced by Myanmar's government to leave camps and return to their villages, where they are still without food, shelter and clean water, he said, noting that the government is providing two cans of rice per person per day.

The archbishop said that very little aid has made its way to the Labutta region. During the first few weeks after the cyclone hit, the only aid received came from the Catholic Church, which provided various necessities to approximately 20,000 in the area, he said.

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