She has 152 children who call her “Big Mom.” In return, she addresses them as “my boys and girls.” Whenever they do something bad, she feels hurt. When they fail their exams, she sheds tears.
For Amarylla Myatt, a needy child is an abandoned baby, children mistreated by step-parents or youngsters forced to give up education due to tragic family circumstances.
In short, they are those who starve for “loving-kindness,” as she puts it. For 16 years, the founder and director of Grace Home, a nongovernmental charity that provides food, clothes and education to the needy, has welcomed children in distress at her shelters in Rangoon, Pegu and, until recently, Taunggu.
The 63-year-old softly-spoken Karen woman took some time out to answer questions from The Irrawaddy.
Question: What was the inspiration for you to set up a home for needy children?
Answer: My dad was a civil servant [doctor] so whenever he was transferred somewhere my family had to move along with him, and I was left behind with my granny. As a child, I had a longing for a family life—to live with parents. My granny cared for me a lot but I felt something was missing.
I had tearful nights when I was away from my parents. So there’s no wonder that my heart goes out to children with tragic backgrounds, especially to those who are separated from their parents for some reason. I can’t help wondering how much they suffer. I can’t stop feeling sympathetic to them. You can say my childhood memories are part of the inspiration.
Q: So how did you establish Grace Home? Did you also have a strong ambition to work with children some day?
A: From 1984 to 1994 I worked for Mary Chapman School for the Deaf, where I developed a deeper understanding about children’s feelings. But, even at that time, I didn’t have any plan to help needy children. In 1994 I quit my job to set up a private nursery school for the hearing impaired, but I found myself fostering five children instead.
When my friends learned what I was doing, they supported me so that in 1996 I was able to take care of nine children.
This was the dawn of Grace Home. Again, when my friends living abroad witnessed what I was doing, they bought me a plot of land in Rangoon and had this three-storey building built to expand my charity work. With donors’ help, I could set up foster homes in Taunggu and Pegu in 1998 and 2000.
Q: And on what criteria do you accept children?
A: My home is indiscriminately open to children in obvious distress, regardless of their race or religion. Generally, we only accept newly born babies to children under five years old, as it is difficult to nurture a child who is over five. Studious children from very poor families are welcome too. I give them shelter, food and education. But my home is not a life-long residence for them. When they become independent, they are supposed to leave.
Q: How do you define whether they are independent?
A: We provide free education, from elementary level to university, to all children under our care. Some of my children have become university graduates. They have gotten jobs and married, so then you can say they are independent.
Thirty-eight out of my 147 children so far are now standing on their own two feet.
For those who are not doing well in their studies, we give them some vocational training on farming, sewing or machinery. After the training we provide them with something they need to set up their own business—for example, sewing machines for those who want to set up a tailor’s shop. If you have an ability to make your living “honestly” then there’s nothing wrong in saying you are independent.
Q: How many children are you fostering now?
A: Not more than 75 both in Rangoon and Pegu. We limit the number of children not to exceed 75 because that range is OK for us to cope with effectively. I have fostered 152 children over 16 years.
Q: Financially, how do you keep your mission alive?
A: Donors inside and outside the country keep it alive. I’ve never asked for donations, but as word gets out about what I’m doing well-wishers started to appear. To compensate for the charity’s expenses, we have a vegetable, orchid and livestock farm in Pegu, plus a cottage industry that produces candles. We assign the children there to have some ideas about work and to learn job-related skills.
Q: Any assistance from the government?
A: Yes, there is. Sometimes they provide us with rice, maybe once a year. I also share what I have with the other orphanages. But I told the authorities not to bother about giving me any assistance. What I only ask is their official approval and recognition for my work. It’s quite enough for me.
Q: You said that you indiscriminately accept any children regardless of their religion and race. But all of your children have to follow Christianity teachings. Is that because you are a Christian?
A: Since they are young, we tell them stories from the Bible about behaving well and respecting their elders. We use Christian teachings because we only know Christianity. But we tell them about other religions too. When they are over 18, the time when they are able to make their own judgment, they are free to follow any faith they like. I impose no religious restrictions on them.
Q: How do you feel about everything you have achieved after all these years?
A: I feel happy to see once-needy children carefree and safe in the arms of love in my homes. I am delighted to see some of my children become independent. It’s very rewarding to see that donors realize what I’m really doing and want to help more. I take it as a blessing from God through donors.
Q: What are your farewell words to those who leave your home when they become independent?
A: To behave well and work hard. I always tell my departing children to help those who share the same fate as them, and urge them to bring the needy to somewhere they can seek refuge.
Q: What is your greatest expectation from your children?
A: I want to see my children become independent. I wish them to be a master in the fields they are interested in, and be someone who can promote the national interest. So I support them as best as I can. They could be national leaders someday, who knows?