Helping the Helpers: Educating Burmese Medics' Children
Kim Behan & Carla Prater
Imagine that you are a refugee, stranded with your family and thousands of other people in a forest far from home or any services. Now imagine you are offered training and a job as a medic to serve your community, but it requires that you travel to other refugee camps as well as serving in your own area. But what about your children? Who will care for them? Will they be allowed to go to school?
That is the dilemma faced by members of the Backpack Health Worker Teams providing mobile medical care to isolated ethnic villages and internally displaced person camps along the Thai-Burma border. Each medic travels
to 9-12 villages every month, providing care for about 2,400 people. They have reduced the infant mortality rate from 125 deaths to 1.4 deaths per 1,000 births, and have reduced the maternal mortality rate from 7 to 0.48 deaths per 1,000 births. They have also reduced the rates of malaria from 11.8% of the population to 1.2%, and dysentery from 2.8% to 1.0%.
Many of you may have heard of the oppression and attacks on ethnic and religious minorities in Burma. These are the people we are helping through our partnership with Burma Humanitarian Mission. This creative project addresses the need for medical care among hundreds of thousands of refugees, and provides jobs that support families and inject energy into the local economies. But the people supplying the desperately needed medical care were often unable to work or were worried and distracted because their own families were also in need.
BGR helps out by funding the education of 55 children of the medical personnel in a school in Mae Sot, Thailand, a safe area removed from the violence in Burma. Twenty children are in the lower grades up through grade 4, and 35 are in grades 5-12. Their parents work either in the conflict zone or in the Mae Sot camps.
The school is an established “migrant school” in Mae Sot, known as the Child Development Center. Without this program, these students would have no educational opportunity. The Thai government does not have a good record of respect for the right of migrant and stateless children to an education, despite the universal right to education set forth in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Many children are undocumented, and this keeps most of them from attending school.
With money from BGR, these children receive uniforms, socks, shoes, backpacks, lunchboxes, notebooks, pens/pencils and similar school materials, and their school administration fees are also covered. Students and their families are not charged tuition to attend the Child Development Center.
Children like 13 year old Saw Kel Doh Say, who loves English class and soccer, and 10 year old Naw Paw Poe, who loves learning about her Karen heritage, have a chance to enjoy their childhoods. Teenagers Naw Eh La Thar and Naw Khlee Moo want to follow in their parents’ footsteps to become medical professionals and help their people. All this is possible because of contributions from people like you!
Kim Behan is the Director of Programs of Buddhist Global Relief. During her professional life, she worked as a software engineer for the Telecommunications industry. She is also the co-founder of a non-profit which provides medical assistance to the impoverished communities of Vietnam.
Carla Prater is retired from Texas A&M University and now lives in Seattle, where she serves as the Assistant Director for Buddhist Global Relief..