Sister Joyce Meyer, PBVM, Executive Director of the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters, visited Southeast Asia from August 31 to September 21, 2001. She traveled to Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and attended the SEAMS (Southeast Asia Major Superiors) meeting in Johor, Malaysia. According to the United Nations, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos are among the 49 least developed countries in the world.
During her visit she met many sisters engaged in important ministries with the poor. In Thailand, she visited two community based projects. The Slaughterhouse Slum in Bangkok is home to hundreds of Thai Catholics who live in very precarious housing situations. Because of inadequate sanitation and clean water sources the people suffer from numerous diseases and rashes. Malaria is prevalent because of standing contaminated water under their houses that are built on stilts. The Presentation Sisters and the Holy Family Sisters assist with family problems, food supplements, schooling and skills education for youth.
In a Hmong village near Chiang Mai, Thailand, Ursuline Sisters work with the people to provide educational opportunities for the children. They are very concerned for the education of girls so that will not need to turn to prostitution for survival.
In Nong Khai the Good Shepherd Sisters help the people to become self-reliant. Their projects include sewing and tailoring, weaving, pottery, agriculture, and outreach to families affected by HIV/AIDS.
Myanmar, formerly called Burma, is a beautiful country rich in history. The sisters care for persons of all ages who have physical and mental disabilities, provide hostels for young girls from villages who come to the city for education and teach farming. Fish and poultry are particularly popular agricultural projects because they provide both food and income.
Laos is a small country with only about 100 sisters. The Sisters of Charity and The Lovers of the Cross both have hostels for young girls where they can stay there while attending school. At the hostel, they learn weaving and sewing, and agriculture skills such as poultry, pig, mushroom and vegetable farming.
There are only about 55 sisters in Cambodia, where each Order is a registered NGO. Education is especially important here. The sisters engage primarily in informal education projects: literacy, health and sanitation, childcare, sewing and weaving. Care of HIV/AIDS victims and an eye hospital are also important ministries here. At the eye hospital managed by the Daughters of Charity a two-year program to train eye surgeons is a great asset to the country.
One of the goals of the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters is to establish communication and networking among Conferences of Major Superiors throughout the world. In Johor, Malaysia, Sister Joyce met with superiors of religious congregations from most countries of Southeast Asia. They shared the challenges their sisters face in working with the people to improve education and health services for their families.