Taung Lon
LA Galaxy. Taung Lon. Naung Chein village in Myanmar’s Kachin, 2013.

Why LA Galaxy? I asked.

“I know nothing about football. I’ve got this shirt from a friend”.

Locked behind the bars of a cage made of bamboo sticks, 23 year old Taung Lon shivers under his filthy blanket. It is his first week at the Youth for Christ centre for heroin addict and tropical heat is not enough to make him warm in a moment of obviously painful crisis. He is going through detox cold turkey and a young man will stay locked in what is called the Special Prayer Room until the eight day with no medication, only to pray and sing and read Bible. I try to talk to Taung Lon but he just smiles and backs off to the corner of a cell he shares with few others, a typical reaction of someone marked by brutal society as guilty forever.

I come back to the centre few days after and Taung Lon looks much better now. Out of a cage, wearing a totally unexpected LA Galaxy jersey he sings “Jesus Loves Me” in full voice, an important and surreal morning ritual all the people from the centre attend. The bizarre collective offers a 40-day “course” of prayer, Bible study and devotional singing, with football and weightlifting for those strong enough to try to overcome devastating heroin addiction.

Ndingi Laja, a former convict and folk singer, better known by his stage name Ahja established the centre in remote mountains of Kachin state to help fight the problem that is totally out of control in this part of Myanmar. I ask him for the results, how many boys quit drugs in the centre – Ahja’s left eye starts blinking and his tough face turns even tougher. Okay, a wrong question – obviously the main point here is to bring addicts on “the right path”, something us, who believe in science more than in divine intervention find difficult to understand. However, anything is much better than young men staying higher up in mountains hand picking through waste of a mine to get a piece of jade or amber to sell for their daily dose of heroin.

Taung Lon 2
Out of the Special Prayer Room, wearing a football shirt.

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