The orphan monks of Myanmar

By DAVID LONGSTREATH, Wells Fargo Pioneer, November 17, 2006

For these boys, the monastery becomes a family.

Yangon, Myanmar -- The head monk chews beetle nut as he quietly shaves the head of a young boy settled at his feet. A line of 10 others, all between the ages of 5 and 10, patiently wait their turn to be left with the patch of hair on their foreheads that marks them as orphans.

The simple, rough building that houses the Mhan Kinn Monastery on the outskirts of Yangon will be the only home many of them will ever know, the monkhood the only family they ever have.

On average, the monastery takes in about 15 young orphans a year. This year, there are 50. At least until the age of 15, they will wear the bright red robes of novice Buddhist monks.

Their limited worldly possessions will include a cup, an umbrella, a toothbrush and an alms bowl. As Theravada Buddhists, they will learn to seek from the community everything they need, from the robes they wear to the food they eat. Competition for donations in the impoverished nation is keen; there are more than 50,000 monasteries in Myanmar.

Catch David's Longstreath lovely photo essay here: