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Local donations help destitute in Myanmar

About $20,000 has been raised so far to help a New London woman provide assistance to a Baptist church community in Myanmar that was hit by a powerful and destructive cyclone two weeks ago.

About $20,000 has been raised so far to help a New London woman provide assistance to a Baptist church community in Myanmar that was hit by a powerful and destructive cyclone two weeks ago.

At least another $10,000 will be needed to help meet the short-term needs of the church group.

Those needs include a commitment to care for 170 refugees left destitute by the storm, according to the Rev. Duane Semmler.

Semmler, who lives in rural New London and is pastor at Tripolis Lutheran Church and Ebenezer Lutheran Church of Kandiyohi, has been spear-heading fundraising efforts here.

The donations are being funneled to his daughter, Susan, who has spent the last four years living and teaching in Myanmar.

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She has purchased "thousands of dollars of rice and drinking water" that were distributed in the days following the storm, he said.

And she has spent the last two weeks coordinating recovery efforts with Burmese church leaders in Yangon who will carry on the mission after she leaves Myanmar at the end of the month and returns to Minnesota.

Initially the long-range plan was to use donations to repair the roofs of the church members' homes, said Semmler, who has been in regular contact with his daughter.

But the congregational members decided they could fix their own roofs and would instead dedicate donations to help refugees who were forced to leave villages that were totally destroyed by the storm.

Even though they have very little themselves, and what they have was damaged in the storm, the church members decided they would host and help the refugees.

"They can't afford to take care of them, but they're doing it anyway," said Semmler, who hopes additional donations can be raised locally for the cause.

He said anywhere from "$10,000 to $1 million" is needed there.

So far, 120 refugees have come to Yangon, a city of 6Β½ million. They are staying at a Bible school, which has floors, walls and a roof but not much else to offer.

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Besides losing their homes and entire villages, most have lost multiple family members. There are about two dozen orphans in the group that will likely be sent to an orphanage.

Semmler said his daughter purchased a change of clothing and a sleeping mat for the refugees, as well as food. About $500 was also used to purchase a generator to pump drinking water from a well.

He said seeing the "faces and the eyes of the desperate" who were thankful for the gifts they received was "uplifting" for Susan.

It was "humbling" to give simple clothes to someone who acted like they'd just been given gold, he said.

A second priority is to help the congregation there build a church facility.

Their 150-year old church was damaged beyond repair. But the members had been in the long slow process of building a simple community building that they will now use as a church. The walls are up but it needs a roof and a floor.

Having a church building will help the congregation continue their mission of helping other Burmese whose lives have been forever altered by the cyclone.

Donations can be sent to: Tripolis Lutheran Mission Fund (memo: Myanmar relief), Box 356, Kandiyohi, MN 56251.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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