By BGR Staff
In eastern and northern Burma (Myanmar), the Burmese army oppresses and routinely attacks the country’s ethnic minorities—Karen, Kachin, Shan, Mon, Palaung, and other ethnicities—forcing many to seek shelter in the jungle. The result is a horrific health crisis among these internally displaced persons, whereby 135 infants out of 1,000 do not survive their first month. Malaria, dysentery, and pneumonia are the leading causes of death.
A U.S.-based organization, Burma Humanitarian Mission, has been supporting Backpack Health Worker Teams (BPHWT) to provide mobile medical care to isolated villages and camps of internally displaced persons. The backpack medics are recruited from the people and villages they serve. Each team travels to 9–12 villages per month, supporting approximately 2,000 people. In 2016, the teams successfully reduced morbidity rates from malaria and dysentery, and likewise lowered the infant mortality rate from 135 deaths per 1,000 births to 1.6 deaths per 1,000 births.
In 2017, BGR entered into a partnership with BHM to support the education of the medics’ children living in Thailand. Over the period of the project, from mid-2017 to mid-2018, BGR sponsored the education of 56 children at a school located in Mae Sot, Thailand, where they are safely removed from the violence in Myanmar. In Mae Sot, the students attend an established migrant school͛ known as the Child Development Center (CDC). Without this program, these children would have no chance to get an education.
Thirty-one of the students are children of medics working in Burma’s conflict zones. In Myanmar, because of the violence of the Burmese army and the fact that the medic teams are constantly moving, it is unsafe for the children to stay with their parents. Twenty-five students are children of backpack medics who staff the team’s office in Mae Sot.
The BGR grant to Burma Humanitarian Mission provided the 56 children with their tuition costs, a food budget, school uniforms, and other materials needed for them to attend school. Classes started in June 2017 and continued through May 2018. Nineteen of the students were in the 4th grade and below and 37 students in the 5th through 12th grades. Eight children 4 years of age and younger received day care.
According to the final report for 2017–18 from Burma Humanitarian Mission, the project realized the following successes:
- 56 children gained access to education, food, and a safe environment.
- They are learning not just math, science, and reading, but also are gaining an understanding of their unique ethnic culture and history—a priceless gift to the present and future generations of Karen, Kachin, Shan, Mon, and other ethnic groups from Myanmar.
- The project empowers young women, since three-fourths of the backpack medics and staff are women.
- By educating the backpack medics’ children, the project successfully helped prepare the children to follow their parents’ example, as medics or in other fields of service.
- Eleven of the sponsored students are enrolled in the CDC’s “Non-Formal Education” program. Success in this program allows the students to gain accreditation from the Thai Ministry of Education and opens the gate for them to attend universities in Thailand.
In its final report, the Burma Humanitarian Mission writes: “We are honored to partner with Buddhist Global Relief! Living in the Thai-Burma border region, these children are witnessing the world increasingly ignore and marginalize their existence. Your compassion and commitment instills hope for these young children that they can succeed in school and in life.”
At its annual projects meeting in April 2018, the board of BGR voted to renew its partnership with Burma Humanitarian Mission for the academic year 2018–19, continuing to provide the children of backpack medics with an education.
Meet some of the children who have been benefiting from this project:
At the far left is Naw Khlee Moo, age 16 and in grade 11 at the CDC school. When she grows up, she would like to become a medic like her Dad and help her people.
Second from left is Naw Eh La Thar, age 14, in grade 10. Her father, too, is a backpack medic. She speaks Karen, Burmese, Thai, and English. She enjoys studying chemistry and physics and would love to become a doctor.
Third from left is Mother Paw, age 11, in grade 7. She likes to study biology.
Third from right is Naw Paw Poe, age 10, in grade 5. She likes to study Burmese language and to learn about the Karen people, their culture and history.
At the far right is Saw Kel Doh Say, age 13, in grade 9. He likes the English class, but he prefers to play football and hopes someday to play it professionally.