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Seattle Times - Myanmar's refugee d

Subject: Seattle Times - Myanmar's refugee doctor wins humanitarian award 

Posted at 05:33 a.m. PDT; Thursday, June 10, 1999

Myanmar's refugee doctor wins humanitarian award

by Magdalena Kulig
Seattle Times staff reporter

For 10 years, Dr. Cynthia Maung has been fighting Myanmar's dictatorship
with weapons of her own: soap and toilets, microscopes and clean water,
antibiotics and education.

The Mae Tao Clinic that she founded in 1989 on the western border of
Thailand offered help to thousands fleeing the repressive regime of Myanmar,
also known as Burma. But Maung - or Dr. Cynthia, as she is called by
thousands of patients and friends - including many physicians and supporters
in Seattle - has been more than a doctor.

She has offered shelter to orphans, fed pregnant women, trained medics and
midwives, helped build and nurture a community.

For all those reasons, Maung, the subject of a 1997 special section in The
Seattle Times, will be the first person to receive the Jonathan Mann Award
for Global Health and Human Rights. It will be presented in Arlington, Va.,
on June 22 by former President Carter.

A stateless person

It's not certain yet, though, whether Maung will be able to receive the
award in person. Having fled Myanmar, she is a refugee, lacking official
identity documents. There is concern that upon her return, Thai authorities
may deport her to Myanmar.

"She is a stateless person. For the past 10 years, Thai authorities have
been willing to turn a blind eye on that because of the service she was
providing. But technically, she is an illegal alien, so she has to be
extremely cautious," said Dr. Nils Daulaire, president of the Global Health
Council, which granted the award.

The Global Health Council, an international organization of human-rights and
health activists, will award Maung a $20,000 cash prize named after Dr.
Jonathan Mann, a crusader against AIDS and a champion of human rights, and
to honor the work of people who follow his example.

As the founding director of World Health Organization's Global Program on
AIDS, Mann was among the first to warn the skeptical world that the pandemic
could not be overcome without simultaneous efforts to promote human dignity.
He died in the 1998 Swissair plane crash.

Maung was chosen from among 50 nominees worldwide.

Maung fled Myanmar in 1989 as the military regime launched a crackdown on
the opposition that sought democracy in a country long ruled by military.
The first clinic Maung set up across the border in Thailand was meant to
offer basic medical assistance to wounded students fleeing Myanmar. Maung,
who had recently graduated from the medical school at the University of
Yangon, had never been interested in politics. She thought she was leaving
Myanmar for just a few months.

But soon she was launching her own war on war's chronic companions: hunger,
poverty, disease, displacement.

Today, the thatched-roof clinic on the edge of parched rice paddies serves
more than 20,000 refugees and migrants a year. It has a center with
inpatient and outpatient services, offers maternal-child-health programs,
infant-nutrition and immunization programs, and family planning.

"It's amazing how many people they are able to serve in this clinic," said
Dr. Alison Shigaki of Seattle, who has volunteered at the clinic, as have
many other people from the area.

"They are able to provide so much with so limited resources. So many things
we take for granted here are not even an option there."

After The Times article, readers donated more than $35,000 to Maung's

Maung and her staff also train medics, midwives and laboratory technicians
to provide health care on the Thailand-Myanmar border. Mobile medical
teams - so-called backpack medics - trek the jungle to bring help and
education to areas unable to support permanent clinics.

Maung also supports social programs. A primary school and a boarding school
serving 44 students provide education and care for orphaned and abandoned

"She, like Jonathan, really thinks in terms of public health and human
rights. I do not think there are too many people who can do that," said Dr.
Tao Kwan-Gett, another of the Seattle-area volunteers at the clinic and one
of the people who nominated Maung and her staff for the award.

"Doctor Cynthia is a very quiet person, yet she is able to bring people
together and lead them in those health projects," Kwan-Gett said. "One of
the things that impresses me is her humility. She just focuses on her work.
Even though each day she must deal with very difficult decisions, she is
always very calm and quiet."

She's deeply honored

She is said to be deeply honored by the award.

"I've heard that she was very excited; she was really shocked that an
important award like this would be going to somebody so unknown, working so
far away," said Daulaire, who has been in contact with Maung through

Daulaire hopes Maung will be able to attend the ceremony. He said the U.S.
Embassy in Thailand is trying to solve the problem, reaching out to the
"highest levels of the Thai government."