Naung Kan is a leprosy colony near the city of Kengtung in Burma’s Shan State -- a place where those afflicted by the disease and rejected by their communities can receive treatment and support under the care of Catholic nuns. But Naung Kan is more than just a refuge. Bonded by their Catholic faith and by the stigma they still face outside its gates, the colony's residents, who number about 300 and represent many ethnic groups indigenous to the area, have created a thriving community. Some disabled residents receive free food and financial support, but many others work in the gardens or do other jobs to support themselves. Some live with their multi-generational families.
In keeping with its mission of Catholic charity, the colony also shelters others in need of support. It hosts a boarding school for children from impoverished families, houses widowers, and provides care to people with various other ailments.
Last October, I visited Naung Kan as part of an ongoing photo book project on Burma’s borderlands. Curious about the residents’ incredible stoicism and the unique diversity of the ethnic groups represented, I documented daily life at Naung Kan for two months. I intend to return soon.
In this photo, ethnic Akeu people hold a Catholic service in their village near the Naung Kan colony. The Akeu, who live in hillside villages in Laos and Burma, number only several thousand, and are little-known to outsiders. Most Akeu practice a form of ancestor worship, but the people of this village converted to Catholicism 49 years ago under the colony’s influence.