Interfaith group provides Christmas meals to Myanmar’s poor

For the poor children and families from the Irrawaddy riverside in Mandalay, where people live in temporary tents, one good meal is a special Christmas gift. An interfaith group of woman comprised of Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus reached out to Mandalay’s poor on Dec. 20 to provide meals as a way of conveying the Christmas message of joy.

“We find Jesus among the poor . so we show the simplicity and joy to the people. We need to get out and smell the sheep that Pope Francis said,” Irish Columban Sister Kathleen Geaney, the group’s founder, told

Sister Geaney said the simple meal of rice and curry can go a long way to help the people, especially children, many of whom are malnourished. Meals are provided on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter, she said. However, the group distributes about 400 eggs each week among need families.

Children stand in line to receive meals provided by an interfaith group of women on Dec. 20 in Mandalay, Myanmar. (Photo by John Zaw)

Hundreds of families stood in line at a Buddhist monastery along the riverside to receive their Christmas-time meal.

Cynthia Yin Yin Ohn, a Catholic housewife and member of the group, said they spent about US$230 to offer meals to poor children, mothers and Buddhist monks.

“The people from the riverside don’t have good food every day so we arrange a feeding program for them. We want to share the joy with the poor especially during Christmas,” she told

Thousands of people live illegally along the Irrawaddy River bank; the majority earns their living as laborers or by carrying goods from ships.

These people have to move to higher land when the river’s water level rises. They also are harassed by local government officials, who have tried to force them to leave.

Khin Myo Win, 43, who earns a living by washing clothes along the riverbank, said she needs to stay.

“Our work is along the riverside so we can’t move to the other areas where there are no jobs opportunities … We have been living here for 35 years,” Myo Win, the mother of seven, told

An interfaith women’s group in Myanmar prepares curry to feed to needy children from the Irrawaddy riverside in Mandalay on Dec. 20. (Photo by John Zaw)

Ashin Tayzawintha, head of the Pe Bin monastery near the riverside, said many of the laborers are having their jobs replaced by machines.

The monks do what they can to assist the families, often providing school supplies and tuition assistance, he said.

“The monks alone can’t tackle the difficulty of these poor people. The government and other stake holders need to solve the issue of people from the riverside,” Ashin Tayzawintha told

The interfaith women’s group has tried to augment the monastery’s work, also providing assistance with school supplies and tuition and some medical assistance, Sister Geaney said.

The meal program is for emergency response but education support is essential as a long-term solution, she added.


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