From the beginning, part of Maryknoll’s mission has been to bring compassion, hope, and relief to those on the fringes of society. Refugees are one of these disadvantaged groups, pushed to the fringes because of violence and oppression. Maryknoll has worked with many refugee groups, including the hundreds of thousands who fled violence in southeast Asia between the 1970s and 1990s. Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, and Lay Missioners began this work in Thailand, which eventually came to include Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Sister Joyce Quinn in Cambodia
Lay Missioner Vicki Armour-Hileman delivering school supplies in Thailand
The Maryknollers served both in refugee camps and in settled communities, helping to organize agricultural, medical, and educational projects. As the work expanded, the challenges grew. As Fr. William O’Leary said in 1988, “These refugees are not seeking asylum in a third country but are really waiting for the combat conditions inside Kampuchea [a region of Cambodia] to cool down so they can return to their villages and farms. But the situation of war has gone on for about 10 years now and the camps just don’t seem to go away. Rather they have become like big cities with unbelievable poverty.”
As time went by, the Maryknollers and their friends could see hope on the horizon. As Fr. Tom Dunleavy said in 1996, “After decades of fighting in Cambodia the guns are silent. People are returning to their lands but it will take time to clear the land mines and make the people feel secure. Now is the time for Maryknoll to move into Western Cambodia to help in all areas of development.” In honor of World Refugee Day, we thought we would share some images of Maryknollers working with these communities. In the Maryknoll spirit, we encourage you to keep all refugees in your thoughts on this day.
Fr. Tom Dunleavy visiting a refugee community in Thailand