February 25 – KHONKAEN
In Thailand there was a state-run leper hospital about 20 kilometres from the town of Khan Kaen in the north–east highlands. The supposedly cured lepers lived nearby in their families in four or five villages; they were destitute, jobless, rejected and humiliated. Two French Brothers who were working in Thailand, Bros.. Emmanuel Gris and Rene Boursin, were moved by their plight and settled in Khan Kaen in 1968; Br. Louis Glodaujoined them in 1979. Three other Brothers: Br. Suradej from Thailand, Br. John-Mary from Spain, and Br. Francois Braguier from France, worked with them in relays. These six pioneers started many activities involving the lepers: they built houses and a dam, bought buffaloes, acquired pieces of land to be tilled by over 100 families, dug a pond and artesian wells. It was while repairing one of these that Br. Emmanuel met his death.
It was after this that Viriyanuchon Home, a home for child lepers was set up. In the 1980S-there- were about sixty of..them- in–the home;. they were fed and- clothed- and given some education. The problem was: what could be done with them after their primary education in the mission? Br. Francois Braguier started building a workshop for the training of motor mechanics, electricians, car repairers. The workshop was open on 1 May 1978 and bears the name of Br. Emmanuel.
In 1988 Br. Philip Neri, an lndian, started the “Foundation of the Brothers’ children” which enables 500 destitute children to mix with the other pupils in teri village schools, builds toilets and gives to the villagers buffaloes and cows and large jars in which to collect rainwater. This foundation, which is supported by the Gabrielite schools in Bangkok, was added to that of an American body which already helped Br. Emmanuel.
In 1998 the small technical school at Khan Kaen was transferred to Nakorn Panon, on the right bank of the river Mekong, 300 km away. There are no lepers’ children there any longer and similar schools have been started in the town. The Brothers have decided to start the Khan Kaen experiment again in an isolated area near Laos so as to remain open to that country.