Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brother Flavian Laplante Declared 'Servant of God' - 2

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The cover of the book The Great Flavian by Brother Alberic Houle, C.S.C.
(In the photo above: Brother Flavian taking a nap on the way to visiting
fishermen engaged in deep-sea fishing in the Bay of Bengal)


Work Among the Fishermen

After the Second World War (1942-1945), the fishermen community was in desperate situation after losing their boats and nets and also finance. The boats that the government had confiscated either rotted completely or were in total disrepair. These fishermen mainly lived in the eastern coastal region of the Bay of Bengal -- fishing in rivers, canals and ponds -- and, in winter (November to February), they went for deep-sea (seventy or so miles away from the southern coast of Bangladesh) fishing in the Bay of Bengal.

These fishermen were Hindus and their social position was at the lowest stratum. They were sort of untouchables, pariahs. They were illiterate, ignorant of hygienic living, steeped in constant poverty due to indebtedness to the money-lenders, and victims of all sorts of injustices.

Brother Flavian was really moved to do something positive to change the sad plight of these people. As part of the rehabilitation, he contacted Mr. Stuart, the District Magistrate of Chittagong, and secured money to purchase several hundred 50 to 80-feet long trees from the Forest Department and build fishing boats.

For hundreds of years, piracy was a constant problem in the parts of the Bay of Bengal adjacent to greater Noakhali, Chittagong and Arakan district coastal areas. When fishermen return with their catch, pirates attack them and snatch away fish and other stuff from them. The same thing happened with the fishermen who were given new boats. Brother Flavian was very upset when he got the news. He met with the fishermen and told them to face the pirates and not to give up so easily. Later he even went with them for fishing and caught a few pirates. He also took government officials with him and fishermen and caught more pirates who got jail sentences. In spite of all these efforts, piracy could not be rooted out totally.

He started cooperative system among the fishermen and introduced motorized boats for bringing the daily catches to the market and making more money (previously, fishermen would go for deep-sea fishing and return after several months with only dried fish). Brother had to face a lot of problems with the fishermen. Being illiterate and short-sighted about their future and economoic prospects, they would bicker among themselves and were uncoperative many times. Moreover, frequent cyclones in the Bay of Bengal would sometimes wipe out a number of fishermen with their boats. Brother Flavian had to face gargantuan task and exercise endless patience in keeping things moving. Every year he had to raise funds for the fishermen to have their costly boats and gears replaced or repaired before the start of the winter fishing season in the sea. After years of efforts the situation of the fishermen changed for the better.

The Orphanage at Diang

After the World War II, Brother Flavian planned rehabilitation of the 200 orphans who were at the camp at Chaktai. For this purpose, he purchased 80 acres of sandhills, that were covered with jungles, near the Christian village at Diang, 10 miles south-east of Chittagong. People of the surrounding areas -- both Muslims and Christians -- used to gather firewood from the hills. When Brother started his orphanage construction project, Muslim neighbours put up a stiff resistence first by disrupting construction work, then stealing materials from the compound as well as from houses, setting fire in different houses and the like. Brother had to put up with this harassment for long eight years. Ultimately, when these people realized that Brother was really doing good for the people through the orphanage and school, they stopped the disturbances.

In 1946, he also started a primary school for these orphans and neighbouring children. He then gradually expanded the classes to Grade 10. Now it is the full-fledged high school , called Miriam Ashram High School, teaching Arts, Science and Commerce.

Besides this school, Brother Flavian is also the founder of several other primary schools and boarding houses for students in different parts of the Chittagong diocese.

A section of the 80-acre land also was given for rehabilitating more than 120 families who came to the area for work from Chittagong, Raozan, Barisal and other places. They now live in two villages -- Joseph Para and Maria Para.

He also planted thousands of fruit trees (mango, pineapple, papaya, banana, and others) of different variety in the vast area.

Brother Flavian Roughened Up by West Pakistani Soldier

During the War of Independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Miriam Ashram School gave refuge to hundreds of internal refugees who fled from their villages that were attacked by the West Pakistani soldiers and their local collaborators. Brother Flavian helped these people, too, including giving the men work on cash payment. Brother Alberic Houle, CSC, writes: "Bro. Flavian carried on his work among the fishermen in this atmosphere of terror and insecurity. In May, 1971, he kept 120 to 150 workers to cut the jungle on the hills of Diang. In the school, the attendance was very poor because the students feared the rough treatment of the army. Bro. Flavian managed to bury three of the eleven fishermen who had been shot by the military; on another occasion, he had two young Christian girls released from their camp. The soldiers resented the courageous interventions of this foreigner and one day, one of them openly sought a quarrel with him when he was about to cross the river. The soldier ordered Bro. Flavian to come down from the boat, searched him from head to foot, slapped him in the face a few times and told him to be gone...." (The Great Flavian, p. 103).

(Continued)
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