Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Clinic Mae Tao at Mae Sot(แม่สอด)

Mae Tao Clinic was found by Dr Cynthia Maung, who is also a refugee from Burma. Dr Cynthia is a Karen, a hill tribe in Burma. She is a medical doctor. The clinic is located at the town of Mae Sot(แม่สอด).

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Mae Sot is a western town or tambon(ตำบล) of district bearing the same name, Mae Sot district or amphoe(อำเภอ). It is under Northern Tak Province(ตาก). Mat Sot is a border town between Burma and Thailand, it has large population of Burmese refugee. It is famous for its border trade in gems and teak,and other black market services such as people trafficking and drugs.

The following is the posting from their official website, about Dr Cynthia and the history of the clinic:-

Dr Cynthia knows first – hand the health challenges facing refugees and the internally displaced. She fled her native Burma during the Pro – democracy uprising in 1988. She was born into a Karen family in Rangoon in 1959 and grew up in Moulmein with her parents and 6 siblings. Cynthia attended No. 4 State High School and it was during this period that political upheaval and the student movement began to cause disruptions to the education system in Burma. Cynthia found that many of her friends were dropping out of school, as they needed to work in order to make a little money to assist their family.

In 1977 the Burmese government began to make changes to the educational system which affected universities and colleges and there were more disruptions to the school year. Cynthia finished high school this year but had to wait for 10 months before being able to enter the regional college where she was required to spend 2 years before entering medical school. A further 10 months between the regional college and medical school meant that it was 1980 before she was able to commence her medical studies.

During her time at medical school Cynthia and her fellow students traveled home to spend time with their families twice a year. They needed to travel by train and boat and there were often other young people and teenagers on board who had dropped out of school. Cynthia and her friends saw that many of these people worked very hard and had crossed into Thailand to buy things that they could then sell in Burma. These young people were always under threat of arrest by Burmese military or customs officials who would come on board and either confiscate all of their belongings or arrest them and take them away. These young people feared the officials a great deal, as they knew that if they were caught with the goods or without ID they could lose everything or worse still, be forced into military activities such as becoming a soldier or a porter for the army.

After medical school Dr Cynthia undertook a 1-year internship in Moulmein General hospital. It was during this time that Cynthia began to realize how poor some people were and how much they had to sacrifice in order to get medical care. Many people sold their homes, property and land or animals so that a family member could receive medical assistance. But still they had to purchase their own supplies such as soap, blades and dressings if they required surgery. Equipment was old and often broken and things such as syringes were used again and again.

From there she went to work in a private clinic in Bassein in the delta area of Burma. It was during this time that the Burmese government decided to change the monetary system. Some of the currency became invalid and many people lost their life savings. This caused suffering for many people and especially for students and the poor. Some schools closed down and the student movement became stronger. Cynthia's mother got sick at this time and Cynthia moved back to Moulmein to help care for her and to be close to her family.

In 1987 Cynthia started working in a clinic in Eain Du Village in Karen State. The village, which was on the main transit route between Pa An and Myawaddy was made up of three main ethnic groups. The Pa O who earned their living mainly by weaving, the Mon who ran the small shops and businesses and the Karen who made a small living from farming and agriculture. Living for all of these people was difficult and they all struggled to survive on a daily basis. Dr Cynthia realized how poor the people were, how little they had and watched as they were forced into working for the military as soldiers and porters. Many village children were not able to attend school and from necessity helped the military in order to make a small amount of money so that they could survive. Taxation was high and diseases such as TB wide spread. The village had one small hospital but during her stay there was a doctor present for only 2-3 months and no medicine or supplies with which to treat the people.

During 1988 the pro democracy movement and demonstrations increased. Cynthia joined up with other villagers and high school and university students who had returned to the village. They tried to work together with similar groups from other parts of the country to bring about positive change in Burma. There was a lot of tension, parents were worried about their children and their safety. Communication and transportation avenues were cut off and the price of rice and commodities went higher and higher. There was confusion and fear among the people.

On September 19, 1988 the military seized power, many activists disappeared, fled the country or were forced to go into hiding. Many thousands of people moved quickly to the Thai–Burma border. On September 21 Cynthia and fourteen of her colleagues decided it was time for them to go also. With few provisions or personal belongings they fled through the jungle for 7 days. They traveled mainly at night and as they passed through remote villages (where the people had never seen health workers or had access to a hospital) they tried to treat the local people suffering from disease and injury with the limited supplies that they carried.

On arrival in Thailand Dr Cynthia and her friends stopped at Mae La opposite Be Claw refugee camp,Tha Song Yars district. Here Dr Cynthia worked at a small hospital treating those fleeing the fighting. There was a lot of confusion as thousands of people tried to find their friends and families. There were many people with many different political ideas and illnesses such as malaria were rife. Later Cynthia moved to Hway Ka Loke refugee camp and it was while she was here that she made contact with Karen leaders responsible for student affairs and with local Thai authorities and church groups who were sympathetic to the plight of these people. Together they tried to set up some systems to lessen the confusion and to bring a little order to the situation in the area.
In December 1989 she was offered a dilapidated building with bare dirt floors on the outskirts of Mae Sot. Here Dr Cynthia went to work. Her makeshift clinic had few supplies and less money. She improvised by sterilizing her few precious instruments in a rice cooker and solicited medicine and food from Catholic relief workers working in the area. She and her companions lived simply and worked hard to treat the increasing number of patients coming to the clinic with malaria, respiratory disease and diarrhea as well as gunshot wounds and landmine injuries. Malaria cases are still one of the most common diseases treated by Mae Tao Health Center.

Over the years, the clinic has developed into a comprehensive health care facility offering a wide variety of services. The clinic staff and services offered will continue to grow and develop, as Mae Tao Clinic strives to meet the changing needs of a dynamic population.

In November 1988 Dr Cynthia moved to Mae Sot. She wanted to set up a center for students needing somewhere to stay or requiring referral for further medical care. Mae Sot had a hospital where this could be done and from this time the clinic began to develop a referal system with the local hospital which continues today.

Dr. Cynthia has received many honors for the Clinic's humanitarian work, including the following:

* 2008 Catalonia International Prize along with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
* 2007 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award (Taiwan Foundation for Democracy)
* 2007 World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child Honorary Award (Children’s World Association, Sweden)
* 2005 1,000 Women Nobel Peace Prize Nomination (Global)
* 2005 Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award (The Dalai Lama and Wisdom in Action, USA)
* 2005 The Eighth Global Concern for Human Life Award (Chou-Ta Kuan Foundation, Taiwan)
* 2005 Included in Time Magazine’s November Article on 18 Global Health Heroes
* 2002 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership (Philippines)
* 2001 Foundation for Human Rights in Asia Special Award (Japan)
* 2001 Van Hueven Goedhart Award (Netherlands)
* 1999 Jonathan Mann Health and Human Rights Award (USA)
* 1999 American Women's Medical Association President's Award (USA)
* 1999 John Humphries Freedom Award (Canada)

(extract from

Dr. Cynthia的友人,德籍女醫生英格在書中曾說:許多人以為我幫助辛西雅醫生是被她的理想所感動其實不然,她並不想刻意去做什麼而是做當下她認為應該做的事她真正感動我的,是同情心、憐憫心、謙虛、耐力和踏實不論做什麼,她永遠是那樣的實實在在即使遇到再大的難題她還是平靜、不厭其煩,勇敢的面對

BBP psychologist Elizabeth Call's discusses her impression of the Dr. Cynthia Maung and the conversation that led to the creation of Burma Border Projects.

Herself a Karen refugee, Dr. Cynthia fled through the jungle to the relative safety of Thailand after the pro-democracy demonstrations in Burma in 1988 left over 3,000 Burmese shot dead in the streets. Since arriving as a refugee in Thailand, Dr. Cynthia has established numerous programs and facilities to support her people including the well-known Mae Tao Clinic, which is located a stone's throw from the Burma border in Mae Sot, Thailand. Dr. Cynthia is often the difference between life and death for refugees who would have no place else to turn.

If you want to know more about Mae Tao Clinic at Mae Sot, and is touched by her work, please visit their official website; for Chinese readers please visit website

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