One morning last November, 2015, I visited the poor Steung Meanchey district of SW Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Over 13 years, a Japanese Catholic missionary, Ms Asano Miyuki, has patiently helped establish there a number of projects which have greatly benefited many of the residents. One major project is called Home for Children. It is essentially a school for early primary age school children. The classrooms are covered cement slabs in a rented field! About 80 children benefit from the daily free lessons, and a nutritious lunch, before returning home. This is one of a number of projects Miyuki has helped establish on behalf of the Japanese Lay Missionary Movement. The daily school, and also a crèche, enable parents to find work − often seeking saleable items at the nearby city dump.
On this day, a young woman arrives to drop off her 8-year-old daughter for the daily lesson. The woman is looking obviously troubled. At my request, Miyuki, who is competent in English and Khmer, speaks to the woman. Miyuki explains that this woman, aged about 28, is married with two children. Her husband is presently unable to work the dump because of a back injury. The woman is newly pregnant, fearful of the future and feeling incapable of providing adequately for the future needs of her family. Later, we visit the young woman, whom we can refer to as Ong Srey, in her home. It is one of the many tiny homes held above ground by spindly wooden stilts. During the conversation, we assure Ong Srey that Miyuki will accompany her through her pregnancy, and make sure she has ongoing access to medical care, and any necessary treatment. Further assistance will be provided at birth time at the end of May, 2016, including post-natal support.
On that day, as we walked away from Ong Srey’s home, Miyuki lamented that many other pregnant women in these very poor circumstances feel forced into making more desperate decisions in order to resolve their crisis. The needs are great, the resources are limited.
On this particular day, however there was a different outcome for young Ong Srey. Ong Srey no longer felt she was alone. Miyuki, she knew, was someone to be trusted. Other projects have been in place for some years, like the school and crèche; ongoing programs in health, nutrition and hygiene and a recent project generating meaningful safe employment and stable income for 15 women! On this day, we resolve to develop a project which specifically extends ongoing support not just to Ong Srey, but to other poverty-stricken women throughout pregnancy, birth and post-natal care. I assured Miyuki that I would seek some means of attracting financial help to support her work, including this particular area of need.
Over the last five months, the support provided by Miyuki has proven crucial in maintaining Ong Srey’s health and well being. Below are specific instances;
- On at least five occasions, Ong Srey has been provided access to hospital care. Normally this would be impossible. Often an upfront fee of US$50 is required for basic hospital care. This is roughly equivalent to our needing to pay $300 in cash when we visit a hospital casualty ward before treatment!
- Accessing quality medical advice has enabled us to make sure that the correct medicines have been prescribed and administered to Ong Srey.
- Ong Srey has been assured that we will provide her the safety of a hospital admission for the birth of her baby (she was astonished and delighted by such news).
- Miyuki is presently able to pay regular visits.
Ong Srey’s journey though pregnancy has been a very courageous one. However, Ong Srey has known she has the security of trustworthy support. Over the last five months there have been frequent conversations with Miyuki. The question has been: in what kinds of ways could Miyuki’s program companion local women through their pregnancies? Our experience with Ong Srey has already helped. With adequate available funds, the following forms of assistance would be given:
- Provide (funding) access to ongoing medical care and medicines;
- Provide (funding) access for a hospital birth;
- Assist with continued provision of hygiene, nutrition; infant/early childhood care support and seminars;
- Help fund training of local women as Community Health Care workers;
- Consider employing a midwife, part-time, for regular visits to families.
Back in Australia, I could think of no better patron for a fund-raiser walk than our own St Mary of the Cross MacKillop - a woman who reflected the mercy of Christ. So a Miyuki Jubilee Year of Mercy Walk was decided upon.
Some of our local Catholic high schools have kindly and enthusiastically agreed to sponsor the Walk by organising fundraising activities. I have commenced visiting some of these schools. The interest shown has already been very encouraging. School staffs have likewise been very supportive. Personally, I am proud to share with the youth the story of Miyuki’s life and work, because it is clear that her faith, her discipleship with the Lord, is her ongoing strength and inspiration. It is also great to be able to invite the youth to identify with Miyuki’s work, to express some solidarity in her mission work of serving and to help enhance the life chances of some of God’s beloved poor.
The Walk (along much of the Old Pacific Highway at a manageable 25-30 km per day) is really a form of pilgrimage, of prayer; of praying for all missionaries like Miyuki, and praying for those they serve and love. Any form of assistance you are able to offer in support of the Miyuki Jubilee Year of Mercy Walk will be gratefully received.
To sponsor Fr Kevin, simply P Anne, 4979 1163 or Cath, 4979 1161, at the Catholic Development Fund.