Zabu Oak Shaung Convent School in Kyauktan outside of Yangon
Zabu Oak Shaung Convent School is a 45 minute drive outside of Yangon. It has received some of our books through a community library in the area. Most of the nuns living at this school are 150 novices between 4 and 14 years of age. They also go to school there. There are about 350 outside students, 100 of them nuns from other convents, in the school as well. Parents in the area have been switching their children from the government schools because the education is so good. The Head nun here is Sayalay Daw Wimalasaryi and it’s obvious that she treats her girls really well.
School guidelines are on several buildings
About 100 of the 150 girls have no close relatives and so by many standards are “true orphans”. Daw Wimalasaryi does not adopt them out. She feels most prospective parents would want to use them for work or supporting their families in other ways. Adoption in this part of the world does not seem as desirable as in the US, where couples are desperate to adopt children, waiting a long time and spending huge sums. One person in Thailand confided that the return rate for children was too high. Parents might adopt and then get pregnant and have their own child and return their adopted one.
As much as parents now love their adopted children in the US, before 1900 there were many orphanages with unwanted children there. How many stories are thereabout “orphan trains” that took children west in the US, where many would be adopted with an eye to their ability to help on the farm? How about some of Dickens’ stories illustrating children starving in the streets, or in the workhouses of Victorian England? Weren’t these societies more “Christian” than we are now?
I think the main reason we adopt the way we do now in the US is we have more wealth. Leisure time and the concept of “happy childhood” is available to most of our families. We can think about getting and “enjoying” a child. A new child, especially a baby or very young one, is so cute, the probability of it dying soon from some disease is nothing like it used to be and one more mouth to feed is easy for us.
They’re not caged. Wire is used instead of glass in many buildings here, in this case for their dining hall. Most of these are true orphans, but you can’t adopt one.
I need to get a video of a line of nuns, all with their parasols, from the tallest back to the shortest novice snaking through the street to places on either side where they receive food and alms. It’s really something to see. I don’t see many white robed nuns Thailand, but I see pink robed nuns and novices everywhere here. When I asked why I was told it is economics. Back in the middle ages monasteries were a mainstay in the culture and provided a place for travelers to stay, just like now in Myanmar. I think the poor economy here creates many parallels with the past in the west when we in the US and Europe were much poorer also. Coming to Myanmar and some parts of India are as close as I get to the feeling I have when I remember going as a child with my grandfather to some places in his small community.
Nuns and novices collecting alms
If we at Opportunity Foundation in Thailand had our girls out begging for support in the town we would quickly get in trouble with everyone. As I noted in a recent post , using orphanage children for any kind of work to support the their institution, certainly for begging, is really looked down on in the international NGO community. Things are different here in a Buddhist culture. It is traditional for Buddhist monks and nuns to beg for food and alms in Thailand and Myanmar where they are highly respected. The day I took the video of the novices just before lunch a young couple had the honor of supplying their food. The pretty young wife in her yellow dress worked along with the older novices serving at the tables while her husband was up at the front table with the head nun.
Head nun Sayalay Daw Wimalasaryi and novices
The girls can leave the school any time after they are 18 or can remain and be a nun for as long as they wish. Many orphanages in the early US and in Europe put the girls out on the street when they were 18, leaving them few options beyond prostitution to support themselves. Many in Eastern Europe still do.