New London graduate teaching in Yangon reports great devastation
NEW LONDON -- A cyclone in Myanmar has created an even stronger link between two families -- one living in rural New London and the other living in Yangon, one of the hardest-hit cities in Myanmar.
Fortunately, members from both families were unharmed, said the Rev. Duane Semmler. His daughter, Susan, is finishing her fourth and final year as a teacher at the International School of Yangon.
A 1994 New London-Spicer graduate, Susan Semmler had taught biology in Yangon for several years and is currently the school's technology expert.
"The devastation there is quite great," said the Rev. Semmler on Monday, shortly after talking to his daughter.
Meanwhile, one of Susan's Burmese students, 19-year-old Zun MiMi Shwe, is living with Duane and Mary Semmler at their rural New London home.
Susan Semmler and other teachers in Yangon raised money to send Shwe to Minnesota to get the post-secondary education they felt she deserved. Shwe is currently a freshman at Ridgewater College in Willmar, pursuing a teaching degree.
When news about the cyclone hit, the Semmlers found themselves in the position of worrying about their daughter who is in Yangon, and trying to calm the fears of their Yangon house guest whose parents were in the storm zone.
Some news reports indicate as many as 10,000 people may have been killed in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Reassuring news came quickly.
Just as the Rev. Semmler was reading about the cyclone on the Internet, his daughter sent an e-mail saying she was OK.
Unlike most buildings in Myanmar, the K-12 grade school that's designed primarily for students of business people, diplomats and expatriates, has a backup electrical generator, Semmler said. Because of its sturdy construction, it sustained minimal damage.
Shwe's parents were not severely injured in the storm, but, like most homes of residents in Yangon, the tin roof of their house was ripped off and the interior damaged by torrential rain.
The family lives on $200 a month, which is enough to buy food but not enough to pay for the estimated $1,500 to fix the roof, said Semmler, who's trying to raise money to help residents of Yangon.
"The need is just unbelievable because the people are so poor," he said.
Winds of 150 mph were reported for more than 10 hours in parts of Myanmar, which is lush with large trees that flourish in the tropical climate.
Semmler said his daughter told him there are few trees left standing in Yangon, a city of about 6.5 million people. Susan, who wrangled her way through downed power lines and twisted trees that lay across roads to find Shwe's parents, said she saw only one chainsaw being used. The rest were hand saws.
The Semmlers have reassured Shwe they would find a way to help her parents and her close-knit church community.
The roof of Shwe's church, established 150 years ago by Baptist missionaries, was also torn off. Many of the congregational members are now homeless and few have the money needed to repair their homes or the church, said Semmler, who had spoken at the church in February while on a trip to Yangon to visit his daughter.
Because of widespread shortages and high prices of drinking water, food, fuel and electricity in Myanmar, the International School of Yangon may close early and Susan may be evacuated, he said.
Before that happens, he's trying to raise as much money here as possible to funnel into his daughter's bank account, so that Susan Semmler can help residents there, like Shwe's family, the church and the church members.
The Rev. Semmler was busy Monday talking with church leaders, including those at Tripolis Lutheran Church and Ebenezer Lutheran Church, both of Kandiyohi, where he serves as pastor, to solicit financial aid to send to Myanmar. He's hoping other churches will also consider helping out.
Because Susan may be evacuated soon, he's trying to work as quickly as possible.
"The need is unbelievable and the need is now," said Semmler.
Myanmar's military government has strained relations with the United States, which could make it difficult for aid to reach people there, he said. Having a local connection there will make it easier to get direct assistance to people who need it, he said.
Anyone wishing to make a donation can send it to: Tripolis Lutheran Church Missions, PO Box 356, Kandiyohi, MN 56251.