As a consequence of the civil war in Burma/Myanmar, many people could not access basic healthcare service so they came to Mae Tao Clinic on the Thailand-Burma border for basic healthcare services. In addition to the forcefully displaced people on the border, there are approximately 300,000 Burmese migrants in Tak Province, Thailand. Some also escaped from poverty in Burma and seek economic opportunities in Thailand. As unregistered migrants cannot access health services in Thailand without facing large out-of-pocket expenses, Mae Tao Clinic is an indispensable source of primary healthcare in the region since 1989. In 2016, of the 111,488 health consultations done at MTC – 48% were from Burma, 52% from those living in Thailand.
Among them is Saw San Myint Htun. He was born in Hlaing Bwe Township, Karen State, Burma. “I was at home when the Burmese army invaded my town. It was when I was ten years old. We reluctantly fled the village, having to look for a place to stay for around a month as many young villagers were drafted into the army, forcefully exploited as porters. During that time, we were compelled to sleep on the ground in the jungle. In addition to this horrifying event, I have witnessed a number of times people suffer or die from curable diseases and have seen numerous people that could not take advantage of the health service in my town due to lack of facilities and financial barriers. For instance, when villagers urgently went to the emergency room, the first thing they were asked was ‘do you have enough money for the treatment?’ These experiences encouraged me to pursue health studies to help such vulnerable people in Burma who have no access to the basic healthcare.”
He came to Thailand after he graduated from high school in Burma to seek education opportunities. He arrived in Mae Sot in 2008, when he was 18 years old. Saw San Myint Htun always has the idea to help people in need of healthcare services. He got the opportunity to continue his studies at Children’s Development Centre, a migrant learning center operated by Mae Tao Clinic which offers English programs. He decided to apply for the Community Health Worker Course and then attended the Health Assistant Training Program for two years. Once finished he started working with Mae Tao Clinic as the School Health Program Coordinator, Disease Prevention, and he is now working as the Health Promotion Coordinator. His role is to promote healthcare in Burmese communities with campaigns and education.
“Even though we cannot save peoples’ lives directly by promoting activities in the community, we can protect them from various diseases by instructing in preventive and health-enhancing behaviors, causes and risks of diseases.”
Furthermore, he believes that his work brings positive impact on communities in Eastern Burma as he is able to directly get engaged in and oversee activities, and overcome obstacles while interacting with communities.
“Thanks to the support of PLE project, I had a great opportunity to learn. Through attending trainings and workshops, I improved my personal skills that I can apply in my real life. Before I got support from PLE, I didn’t know the systems of how to give the training and workshop, and I didn’t have any accredited certificates. Now I have learned the methods of training, workshop, project planning, leadership, management, and other important technical skills to advocate and support communities. Furthermore, with the accredited certificate, I have full confidence to do projects or give training as well”.
For the future, he would like to pursue further health education and continue to work at Mae Tao Clinic. Ultimately, he wants to share his skills and knowledge with others in need in Burma.
(This interview was conducted for the PLE/IRC programme in July 2017, and revised and re-posted on August 23, 2017)