Our Friends In Mae Sot

The story of an Italian focolarino’s encounter with the extreme poverty of refugees due to the war in ex-Burma. Projects in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

goc30_01Ever since I began my experience in the focolare in Thailand in 1984 I’ve been in ongoing contact with the poor. In 1985, when we took our first trip to Burma – now Myanmar – I was able to touch the extreme poverty with my own hands; up until then I would never have had the opportunity to see it in person. Then, because the civil war in 1988, refugees began arriving from Thailand, especially in the border regions. Their condition? Illness, lonliness, desperation, exploitation and a great longing for a real life. For us focolarini, they represented a face of Jesus crucified and forsaken who we tried to lift up and love. Over these 32 years our help has surely been insufficient, as one can see from the recent humanitariann distaster that isn’t receiving a lot of reporting. No one is ever prepared for the pain of seeing people die.

We’ve taken over a projejct begun by Father Justine, Burmese, who died after a long illness. He provided care for the children of migrants who were being left alone at home all day, and so we gave the last monies we had to be able to provide them hospitality. Now the school is called “Drop By Drop, the Latina Bridge Mae Sot.” It’s a collaborative effort between our children in Mae Sot that are originally Birmian and Karen and her friends from a school in Latina, Italy where several Focolare members work. It’s a bridge of solidarity which connects the two cities that are 10,000 km apart, and it has now involved some hundred poeple from many other places. A multi-national transport company helps us to take the containers of collected goods, paying all the customs and clearance fees (€ 1000) to their destination in Mae Sot on the mountains of Thailand.

goc6_02Currently, through Father Joachim from Myanmar, we are helping 200 people who are outside official refugee camps, undocumented and often without food. As Pope Francis puts it, we are experiencing what it means to “touch the flesh of Christ,” one of the many faces of Jesus Forsaken. Besides food, there is great need of love, warmth and affectioin… Chiara Lubich and our spirituality urge us to ‘make ourselves one’ with everyone. One of them said to us: ‘Thank you for everything you get for us,, but especially for making us feel loved. This gives us hope to live.’

There’s an association made up of some friends from Poschiavo in Switzerland, which has been recognized by the government and finances projects that are underway in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Six years later it seems like a real miracle!

IMG_7324The projects in Vietnam are located in the southern zone, towards the Mekong Delta, in a parish. We build and repair small houses, wells with potable water; and we build bridges that are very useful for communication among the small islands.The so-called monkey bridges, constructed with bamboo stems are substituted with bridges made for humans with iron and cement. Now we’ve begun to work in the mountains too, in central Vietnam, in the zone of Gia Lai, which was known for the battles during the war. The Church is very involved in that zone and the poverty level has really reached levels of high concern in the mountain villages, especially among ethnic populations. In Laos we provide assistance for children through priests who have spent time at the priest school in Taygayta, Philippines.

The help is sustained by genuine friendship, much creativity and a willingness to work. Love is like a bridge that joins everyone in a common dream: to live universal brotherhood concretely. Our budget? Free donations from many ordinary and also poor people. We feel that if God wants this project to carry on, he’ll provide for it.

Luigi Butori

Website: www.gocciadopogoccia.ch

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