They all call her the “Mother Teresa of Burma”: Sister Marta Mya Thwe, a religious of the Congregation of St. Joseph of the Apparition (SJA), is committed to taking care of people with AIDS or HIV, who lack proper care, are marginalised by society and thrown out by families, and of whom the Burmese health institutions do not even take into consideration.
Myanmar is one of the countries most affected by AIDS in Asia. Despite having one of the largest HIV epidemics, only about 20% of infected people receive treatment.
Sister Marta said about her commitment, “Many people are afraid to touch people who have contracted AIDS. I have noticed that many sick people are thrown out of their homes as a result of this disease. There were many terminally-ill people lying on the roadside or even already dead. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people dying from the disease, in the total abandonment of the government and institutions”.
In 2001, driven by the impulse to do something, she even asked a Buddhist nun for help and thanks to some benefactors and students she founded the “Mirror of Charity” Health Center, which provides shelter, food, medicine and educational resources for orphans and people with AIDS.
The first centre was born in Kyeikkami, a small rural town in the state of Mon, and started to welcome and take care of AIDS patients from the states of Kachin, Shan and Karen, with a team of two nuns and 10 lay persons.
A work marked by compassion. “I saw so many die almost every day. We accompanied so many in their last moments of life”, she recalls.
After many efforts the nun managed to get the drugs and started the treatment for 20 patients. Then, thanks to other benefactors including foreigners, she managed to administer therapy to about 103 children and adults.
The centre, which started in a simple wooden house in 2002, has now expanded to a complex of several buildings. The complex includes a small plot of agricultural land and livestock, a facility for professional training courses, with the perspective of a “holistic approach”, to accompany the sick in their lives. Today it is also equipped with a small clinic to provide general health care and where one can do tests for diseases such as malaria or hepatitis.
In 2014, a new health centre was born in Kawthaungnel, in southern Myanmar, the area where AIDS is widespread. Other care and support centres are located in the cities of Kyaikkami and Thanbyuzayat and assist approximately 104 patients, including 24 children under 15 years of age.
“We are trying to address the problem of sick children with an integral assistance for their growth, which provides care but also the educational path”, said Sister Marta, noting that often parents and family members are not willing to accept the return of children in their respective families.