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NEWS - Doctor makes a difference am
- Subject: NEWS - Doctor makes a difference am
- From: Rangoonp@xxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 23 Jul 1999 21:47:00
Subject: NEWS - Doctor makes a difference amid chaos
Doctor makes a difference amid chaos
S.F. Gate/ San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle)
SPECIAL TO THE EXAMINER July 19, 1999
Cynthia Maung heals Burmese refugees at camp on Thai border
MAE LA PO HTA, Burma - There is no certainty here, no security.
This makeshift village of ethnic Burmese was thrown together from the
destruction of their homes at the behest of the military government.
Soldiers could attack at any time, killing residents or pushing them
the border into Thailand.
And yet, Cynthia Maung is determined to build a hospital for the 5,000
people who have been living here since October. It is as much an act of
defiance as it is a necessity.
Over on the southern hillside, logs pushed into the ground for the
hospital's foundation are crispy black, salvaged from a village that
government troops burned in an effort to terrorize people into areas
securely under their control and, according to human rights observers,
cleanse Burma of ethnic strongholds, especially those fighting for
Two other clinics that "Dr. Cynthia" built inside Burma already have
wiped out. Funds for medicines are scarce. Increased migration to and
the Thai border because of Burma's forced displacements and other human
rights violations has raised the cases of malnutrition, anemia and
as well as the number of orphans and abandoned children.
Last month, in recognition of the work she is doing among the Burmese
refugees, she was honored as the first recipient of the $25,000 Jonathan
Mann Award, given in honor of the international AIDS official who was
in last year's crash of a Swissair plane off Newfoundland.
"Always new problems'
The 39-year-old physician's long black hair is always swept back into a
braid and her deep dark eyes swirl with the multitude of things that
be done. Still, she keeps finding ways to keep her people alive.
"The work here on the border never ends," said Maung. "There are always
problems, new sufferings."
She, too, is a refugee - although an accidental one, she claims. She is
Karen, one of the targeted ethnic groups singled out for persecution by
Burmese military. Back in the late '80s, she was too preoccupied with
for sick people in her native territory to participate in the bubbling
political dissent against the oppressive military regime.
But when soldiers started shooting at demonstrators in Rangoon, killing
least 2,000, she left, along with the students and other activists from
town, during the August 1988 government crackdown. They headed across
border, where about 9,000 ethnic Burmese had for the previous four years
been making temporary homes in camps to escape fighting between rebel
and the Burmese military.
Maung thought she wouldn't be gone long. But after three months, she was
restless and worried about the growing sickness among the new arrivals
the camp. So she did what she knew best: doctoring.
Border camps grow
She set up a clinic on the Thai side of the border, where she now lives
her husband, brother and other relatives, just outside of the nearby
town of Mae Sot, only 5 kilometers from Burma's border.
Since then, the number of camps along the border has grown to 16,
refuge for 110,000 ethnic refugees who hope - as Maung does - to return
someday. Elsewhere along the border, another 300,000 Burmese have come
because there is no work or no safe way to earn money in their own
The path to Maung's clinic in Mae Sot is well-worn. More than 100
line up each day for free prenatal, pediatric and outpatient care. A
makeshift hospital, built last year of cinder blocks and chain-link
has 28 beds. But patients of all ages can number up to 40, lying under
ceiling fans and a tin roof. The Burmese staff includes three doctors
health workers, all volunteers who get food and shelter in exchange.
The clinic also supports a primary school and boarding school for
and abandoned children, as well as women's organizations in the nearby
refugee camps. It trains refugees to work as "backpack medics,"
back inside Burma with medicines and basic health care knowledge to
villagers who have been cut off from help.
These days Maung does more managing than actual doctoring. When not
the medics, she is off to the border to check on security and other
troubling the refugee communities. In the past two years, two camps on
territory have been destroyed by raiding Burmese troops.
She also must make time for her own two children, 4-year-old Chrystal,
Peace, a 6-year-old who can't seem to get enough of his mother's
His hands constantly tug on her Burmese or, standing on his toes, cover
mouth during one of the many discussions she has with the clinic staff
Maung's clinic is also popular with doctors and medical residents from
America and Europe, who come as volunteers for a few months. "I don't
what all these people would do without Dr. Cynthia," said Maria Guevara,
pediatrician from Venezuela working in Maung's hospital. "It is amazing
goes on here."