Having been repeatedly denied a working visa to provide direct aid to Burma (aka Myanmar) as an international relief group (whose name, Operation USA, leaves the tragi-comical government of Burma unenthusiastic about my prowling about their beautiful country looking for health care projects in need of assistance), I travel instead to Mae Sot on the Thailand-Burma border. There, one of the great grassroots success stories, Dr. Cynthia Maung's Mae Tao Clinic, has for 21 years managed to care for over 250,000 semi-permanent refugees while also providing quiet cross-border assistance to those who need it.
Dr. Cynthia, as she is commonly known, is a major humanitarian figure -- there's usually at least one such person in every country, often a physician, whom those of us who walk the earth consumed with aid and development rely on for guidance,cultural awareness and an honest partner -- who has amassed an under-funded empire of basic medical services, emergency care, violence prevention and treatment and a panoply of social services. She attracts hundreds of international volunteers, often college age, who cut their teeth working 24/7 in one of her projects and are changed eternally for having done so. After years of operating in a quasi-legal vacuum, the Clinic is finally "registered" with the Thai authorities. This status should enable it to receive duty free material aid from groups like Operation USA.
As the years of Burmese Government oppression turn into decades, as Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stays under house arrest, and typhoon disasters and mismanagement of resources devastate an otherwise rich country, it's important to remember the Burmese and make a small place for them in our ocean of compassion. Dr. Cynthia's Mae Tao Clinic is a good place to start.
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