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October 29, 2013

Myanmar Humanitarian Foundation for Orphans

October 29, 2013 | By | No Comments

On our last trip to visit U Hla Tun from the ffsswmd foundation we were able to to supply new equipment for their old ambulance and also teach them how to use new equipment in the newer second hand ambulance they purchased at a very cheap price from Japan. Also on our trip we were able to donate a truck load of clothing, as well as another EMS training afternoon, in which the 8 ambulance officers (and a lot of other interested volunteers) practiced the skills we taught them as well as learned new things. We were very happy to see they had not forgotten a thing and are very quick to learn new skills (which makes our job easier:)

This trip I also managed to sort out information I needed to help them open the new MHF – Orphans website. I met a few of the children and did what research I had to do to achieve this. And so finally I would like to introduce to you the MHFO website: which is also on Facebook and has reciprocal links.

Myanmar (Karen State)

Third Trip

Next month on the 22nd – 25th February the BFA is going to Myanmar to continue to train rescue personnel in Myanmars’ first and as yet only free rescue service. We are also going to donate clothing to local Karen villages. This trip we have even more volunteers and vehicles going as interest in helping our neighbors increases.
If you have any second hand clothes/toys/materials, or even petrol vouchers, please let Marko know on 0870181291 or drop in and see us opposite Major Ekamai, Sukumvit.

First Trip

Several weeks ago I met a Karen man on Facebook who has opened a Foundation (in the Myanmar State of Karen) for taking care of the dead, that is to say to help with funeral expenses or just for people who have no family whatsoever. With the displacement of so many Karen over the years due to civil war and the persecution of Karen and many other minorities the workload has been quite great for this fairly new organisation. And in a very similar way this is reminiscent of the Thai Foundations Ruamkatanyu and Poh Teck Tung who I have worked with over the last 12 years. And so upon further inquiry I found that they had recently acquired a second hand ambulance since the local government hospital will not dispatch the only other ambulance in the Myawaddy province unless the patient can pay for it, similarly the government hospital will not give medical treatment unless the patient can pay for it. U(Mr) Hla Tun informs me that often they have to take patients over the border (which is relatively easy) to the Thai governments’ Mae-Sot Hospital, where they have no problem getting treatment despite not even being Thai.

I became very interested in U Hla Tuns’ Foundation and the work they are doing since they seem to be following the Thai Foundations growth pattern. I then decided I needed to know more and so I planned a trip to visit them. On arrival there I was greeted with a very warm welcome and began the slow process of dissecting the organisation to make sure that these people were the real thing. With corruption in Asia at an all time high and Myanmar being so isolated for so long I really did need to take a good hard look at this Foundation. After a day of having free access to all their documents and talking to the volunteers and other agencies that they deal with I was very assured that they were in fact a very legitimate group of sincere and hard working volunteers. The final deal maker was when I found that U Hla Tun himself sleeps on the floor of the foundations meeting room at nights and has not been home for years. The volunteers tell me of how hard he makes them work but the love of him is great, they laugh and hug each other freely and sincerely. I also liked the make-up of the foundation members, they were predominantly Karen but also have other ethnicity, their ages were on average 30+, probably due to the fact that most of the young people had left to find work in Thailand and secondly many of those who fled during the fighting with the government troops are too scared to return. There is a distinct lack of teenage people in Myawaddy. Lastly I was very pleased to see that group consisted of every main religion, Muslim, Christian, and predominantly Buddhist. This to me was a good sign that this Foundation was humanitarian and not strongly aligned to any particular religion or race.I was impressed at the dedication and commitment to their work and so I finally decided that this was a group I wanted to help, particularly in the area of First Response(FR) and higher EMS education and assistance with equipment to complement this.

Other points of interest that require further investigation were their mosquito control program which I think it very important since there is a high incidence of Malaria there (and even drug resistant malaria). I like these kinds of programs that are pro-active rather than reactive.
Another is the education of some 500 elementary children that the foundation teaches only twice a week in one room on top of the foundation. A lot more research is needed in this area.
Last but not least is the drinking water program. Every summer there are serious water shortages and so the foundation travels around the state with a large water truck delivering drinking water to villages.
There are hundreds of more things that can be done but these are just a few I have picked up on so far.

My first priority was to get equipment for their ambulance which literally has nothing in it except a world war 2 type stretcher and a medical beg with a few rolls of bandages in it! They had an oxygen tank but it was well past its expiry date and they were too scared to try and fill it. Secondly was to teach the volunteers FR and how to use this equipment. After asking around I was unable to find anyone to sponsor the project and so finally I thought I will have to pay for it all myself (again) but then at the last minute an old friend Pi-Rat from the company Pro-Medic came to my rescue and supplied all the equipment (KED, O2 Tank, Vacuum splints and normal splints, Collars, Ambu, Spinal board, and other basic items).

Thank you Promedic

At first I planned to go alone but over the last week more and more Ruamkatanyu volunteers have heard about what I am doing and want to come along and help! Unfortunately I had to start turning them away since I am paying for the petrol myself and can only afford the one vehicle (with 6 people and equipment) to go. So all the people I chose are the ones I normally work with in “Tong Lor”.

So today Im trying to rest before we leave tonight but my mind is buzzing with the logistics of it all. One of the main problems is language. We are using Thai and English to communicate but their Thai and English is not so good (actually neither is my Thai) and there are only a few people who can speak these 2 languages so I have no idea yet how its going to work out when training the Karen volunteers but I think teaching by showing is just as good as any.

Will post more next week when I return but for now you can follow us on facebook which I update more regularly than this website anymore:)

Part 2

After a week of frustrations and rejections from NGO’s, companies and others, I finally found a sponsor for the EMS equipment, I still had to finance the trip itself but a large part of the burden was taken off me. A friend, who owns a rescue equipment company ( donated all the goods I needed. So with my faithful team of volunteers and a borrowed ambulance(pick-up) 6 of us packed into the pick-up with all the equipment and headed off at midnight to the Thai border town of Mae Sot. Arriving early morning we were soon met by U Hla Tun and some of the volunteers and taken across the border to Myawaddy, the capital city of the Karen State. I was amazed, and proud, that my friends had no hesitation in going on this trip, despite their knowledge of the dangers involved, I felt very happy when I looked at them working to see their commitment to helping others, as always. I always think myself lucky to be surrounded by friends like them.

Finally we arrived and were given the warm welcome I had received a week earlier, after the formalities were over we insisted we start teaching right away. They asked us if we wanted to go sight-seeing but my friends said no, they were here to work, not sight-see. I could see U Hla Tun’s normally expressionless face impressed that we were of the same mind as him, hard workers who get enjoyment from helping others. To teach and help others like this is really much more satisfying than any trip.

This time around we had a few good Thai speakers so I left the actual teaching up to my friends who I had taught over the years. They knew the way I taught and what I wanted to teach so it required very little input from me. I was able to join in and have fun for a change, to make the lessons go smoothly, yet with an air of fun. I had initially thought that the lessons might be slow and difficult for the volunteers to understand since many have no education at all but I was surprised and impressed after only one lesson that the first group could easily mimic our lesson and within minutes had a volunteer in a collar, KED, vacuum splints, and secured to a spinal board for transport. As the usual final test goes we lifted the volunteer up and down, side to side and ever upside down to show the effectiveness of the equipment and reasons for securing the patient. With many of their patients coming from remote areas that sometimes are only accessible by foot, this new immobilizing board and equipment was a godsend to them. It was like Christmas day watching them play with the new equipment.

Finally the day was almost at an end and we enjoyed a last meal together, talked and chatted and then my friends were taken on a quick tour before being taken back over the border. I stayed on for a meeting with U Hla Tun and some other volunteers to look at future projects. My first thought was that they the volunteers need to be trained by a local, long trips like this are difficult and the language barrier is a problem sometimes. Also the need for regular assessment of the volunteers working skills is paramount in making sure they have understood and remembered what they have been taught and so I made an offer to pay for one volunteer to do a EMT-B training course in Bangkok, plus CPR-Instructor certification. The person everyone seemed to look to was a girl, mid to late 20’s who could speak fluent Thai. So now we are just waiting for confirmation from the foundation who it will be.

The second major point was water, I believe a lot of resources are wasted in water delivery and some alternative needs to be sought. Thirdly the need for a school for the seriously poor, of whom there are many. These projects are a bit beyond my financial scope but I will definitely be seeking other NGO’s who may be able to do these things.

Still, the one problem I am finding is that the NGO’s are all in Thailand and quite reluctant to come across the border. A lot of work and resources is with the refugees there and so the locals who decided to stay are in just as much need but do not get it. It’s probably safe to say that the refugees are probably better off than those who stayed. I have been to 2 refugee camps and I really do believe this to be the case. That’s not to say the camps are nice but just as a comparison to some parts of the Karen State.

But anyway, it’s made me think a lot about my work here in Thailand, and the fact that over the last 12 years, I have seen the EMS service here grow from strength to strength. My eyes now lay firmly on Myanmar. It reminds me of Thailand over 60 years ago and I really want to be a part of it. In my mind Im already planning to move there within the next 2 years to help U Hla Tun build up his rescue service and also hopefully open, and possibly run, a school.

Finally I want to say to the Burmese and Karen people, congratulations on the first Karen Rescue Service FR course completion! I can’t wait to be working with you again soon.

My favorite Chinese saying that I was taught 20 years ago always comes to mind at times like this. “Nothing is impossible, just a little difficult sometimes” and it’s how I have lead my life for the last 12 years and will continue to live it in the future.

By Marko Cunningham
Thanks to U Hla Tun for your hospitality and inspiration

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