Friday, September 21, 2012

Mae Tao Clinic to Stay in Thailand

Gentle Reader,

One thing I mentioned in a previous post was that a rumor about the clinic moving to Burma may be hurting funding.  Dr. Cynthia assured me that they were not moving.   Irrawaddye just published an article confirming that Mae Tao Clinic will stay where it is.  You can also see it at

You can learn more about the work being don by Dr Cynthia and her crew at Mae Tao Clinic

Save Elephant Foundation


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mea Tao Clinic

Gentle Reader,

A few days ago I posted my initial impression article which was written while I was still in Mae Sot.  I’ve been back three days and have had time to decompress, at least a little.  My initial impression was stick on accurate – Wow would be an understatement.  Today I’ll try to take a look at the scope of the need and Mae Tao Clinic’s contribution to that need. I’ll close with a bit of information on how you can help, if you are so moved.  Please note that the scope of this article is limited to Burmese migrants in Tak province. There are perhaps 65,000 registered and 150,000 unregistered Burmese migrants in Tak province (1).  This group, over 200,000 human beings, are all in Tak province.  They are just part of the bigger picture which would include the migrants and refugees all along the Thai / Burma border.  The bigger picture must also include all those in Burma who suffer at the hands of that junta. The scope of suffering and need is beyond comprehension.

Mae Tao Clinic serves Tak province and supports clinics in Burma.  The contribution made is immense.  I would invite you to spend some time at  The site is very well organized and well written.  You will see that the clinic is involved in three main areas:

First they provide health services.  “The Mae Tao Clinic, founded and directed by Dr. Cynthia Maung, provides free health care for refugees, migrant workers, and other individuals who make the dangerous journey across the border from Burma to Thailand” (2).   The daily patient load is around 300 per day and rising.  It’s worth repeating that approximately half of the patients they see each day make a day trip from Burma while the other half are migrants who reside in Tak province.  All medical services at Mae Tao Clinic are free to the patient.

The green uniforms tell me these children reside in Burma

Dr. Cynthia Maung, Founder and Director of Mae Tao Clinic
with one of her many pediatric patients 
Second they provide medical training.  “Mae Tao Clinic is viewed as an excellent training facility as it offers skilled trainers, including Burmese doctors, senior medics, and international professionals. Due to the Clinic’s high patient load, it also offers extensive practical training. Although travel from inside Burma to the Clinic is expensive and difficult, involving passage through areas of conflict and the passing of security checkpoints both in Burma and Thailand, participants come from all over Burma to attend trainings at MTC”.  (3) Their participation makes a difference in an untold number of lives in Burma.

Third they provide Child Protection: “While Mae Tao Clinic began as a humble health service delivery organisation, it has evolved into an umbrella social services network for refugees, migrant workers, and other displaced Burmese. As a focal point of these activities, child protection is the most rapidly growing area of need. The continued deterioration of services in eastern Burma, coupled with the steadily growing population of migrant families, accounts for the increased demand for our work” (4).  The Child Development Center (CDC) is Mae Tao’s own school with 1,000 students and several boarding houses.  By its self the CDC is a huge project!

Sign at the entrance of Mae Tao Clinic.
"We do not tolerate gambling, illegal drug-taking or human trafficking"
Many organizations are suffering from financial shortages.  Mae Tao Clinic is, sadly, included in this group. Anyone with an eye for numbers and a computer can clearly see that Mae Tao Clinic spends their funds wisely and always have the people they serve first in their minds.  Mae Tao Clinic also has a 4 year grant / contract with USAID.  Stringent audits are required as a pre-approval process for any money given out by USAID.  NGO’s who have questionable accounting practices need not apply.  Actually the audits are so stringent that only three accounting firms in Thailand are acceptable to USAID.  This says a whole lot about the quality and sincerity of the Mae Tao Clinic.

One of their recent / current challenges is funding for medicine at the clinic.  Mae Tao has enjoyed a restricted grant from a foreign government which provided some 10 million baht a year for the purchase of medicine. The contract ran out in June and has not been restored.  The agency representatives say it's bureaucratic delays and there nothing to worry about.  However it's been 3 months and Mae Tao is worried. 

USAID has already warned Mae Tao Clinic that they may be forced to reduce their funding in the 2nd and 3rd year of the contract.

Future and present fund raising plans feature diversity.  Past reliance on big government grants make them vulnerable.  Currently 60% come from big Government grants and the governments may be changing their helping strategies.  Mae Tao Clinic wants and needs more unrestricted money.  Given the stringent auditing and reporting requirements they must meet to satisfy their big government donors, it's easy to be certain the money goes to the right place. Audits are clearly posted on their website, they are hiding nothing!  

Interested donors have several options, based on their country of origin.  You can see those at  In addition to requiring funds to continue operations, Mae Tao clinic is always looking for medical volunteers.  Medical students, doctors, medics and nurses are all invited to volunteer.  

Since I’ve been in Thailand, pushing three years now, I’ve seen a lot of organizations that provide opportunities to donate and to volunteer.  Mae Tao Clinic is, in my opinion, the most deserving.  They need and they deserve our help! 

Mother and Baby at the Mae Tao Clinic



Thursday, September 13, 2012

Agape - One of 74 migrant schools in Tak Province

Gentle Reader,

Agape means unconditional love.  Love will be the only thing that will truly heal the wounds of 9/11; I could think of no better tribute than on the anniversary of that tragic day in 2001, to visit Agape Orphanage and Learning Center in Maesot Thailand.
Headmaster David Min Naing at Agape
David and two other head masters 
Tak province borders Burma and is teeming with Burmese people, culture and challenges.  Three of the seven refugee camps are in Tak, but that’s a total ly different story for the future.  There are thousands of migrant workers in Tak province, here at the grace of the Royal Thai Government but without many of the basic rights and privileges of a Thai citizen.

There are 74 schools (learning centers) in Tak province which support the children of migrant workers from Burma.  Perhaps in a future article I’ll take a deeper look at the political situation in which they must survive. Today you receive only a very brief background and a quick tour of a rather amazing campus.  Fair enough?

This article contains no information on how you can contribute.  Those of you who are interested please contact me and I’ll provide that information.  Depending on your country and tax status there are different options.
Boys at study, do they deserve an education and a chance in life?
Agape is one of the 74 schools. Headmaster David Min Naing is also the vice chairman of the consortium of 74 schools that support the migrant workers in Tak province.  The 74 schools support some 15,000 children, ranging from Nursery through grade 6.  David is quick to point out that after grade 6 most children are removed from school by their parents and put to work.  He also said there are between 15,000 and 20,000 children of migrant workers who are NOT in school.
Nursery Age Children, learning the Thai alphabet
 and beiing distracted by the foreigner with the camera .
After I left his company I sent David a flurry of short emails asking questions.  The last was just to confirm that he has 300 children.  His answer tells a lot about his operation, his philosophic approach and his finances.  I love this guy!  His answer "Agape has 300 children, 10 salary teacher including me are 3,500 thb per each, me the same, 3 volunteer teacher no salary just pocket money no more 500 thb.and 4people for boarding house care and cooks are  1800 thb per each. 1 day and gate watch and 2 night watch 2000 thb per each. and finally 2 free driver like me".

This headmaster does everything based on love, he even named his school Agape.  An incredible man, David has designed the buildings himself.  He prefers separate buildings rather than a typical elementary school configuration.  It’s like a small campus.  The construction and maintenance is done by staff, volunteers and the children.   In addition to the classrooms, auditorium, dining facility and dormitories, there is a pig pen, chicken house, fish tank and more.  Agape is to the extent possible, a self-sustaining community.   Each building was sponsored by donations from various charities.  Without their support, life would be unbearable for these children.  Still there is much to be done, and serious shortages of just about everything.
Boy's dormatory
Fish Tanks - part of being self sustaining!
Agape has 300 children ranging from nursery school through grade 6.  As I walked around the campus I couldn’t help but notice some of the activities.  In the nursery school the children were learning the Thai alphabet.  The kindergarten class was lined up to show the teacher their written assignment, in Burmese.  Other classes were studying from books that looked like readers

Writing assignment being checked
They caught me at the window!  
The sign says “Orphanage”, but that could be misleading.  Of the 300 children 14 are known orphans, 12 are abandoned (the status of their parents is unknown).  The rest of the children are  boarded at Agape while they attend school.  They are too young to work in the fields; the parents are happy to have them taken care of by the school.  The parents get care for their children while they toil and the children receive an education.  It may seem sad, but it really is a win-win scenario within an overall situation that is far less than desirable.

David tells me that the children must learn to love and respect each other.  To that end, each day begins with, and again I quote David from one of his emails  “ 1. First we bow to Thai national flag and sing Thai national song ,  happy children songs with action ,Christian  song.  and  pray Islam by Islamic children lead them self ,then Buddhist religious saying by Buddhist children them self, then for  Christian I lead to pray , then good morning song, then final song is pigeon song that all children singing with flying and sleep action and then all children go inside the class room.”  Next time I’m in Maesot I’ll record this!

Each day these children are taught respect for the nation that is their host and also to  appreciate each other’s religion and culture!   I love this powerful approach.   Much of the evil in the world is committed in the name of religion. Teach the children that we are all the same and that there is no benefit to religious persecution; that is his belief and I totally agree.   Agape is love!   Children are lovable and deserve our love and respect!

Beware of these children: They will steal your heart!
However, they commit no crime

David and most of the 3rd grade class

This article contains no information on how you can contribute.  Those of you who are interested please contact me and I’ll provide that information.  Depending on your country and tax status there are different options

The bigger Issue! 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mae Tao Clinic - First Impression

Wow would be an understatement!

Landmine Victim sleeping in the surgery. Mae Tao needs help to help
Before coming to Mae Sot to write about the goings on in these border communities, I had the opportunity to meet Dr Cynthia Maung, the founder and director of the Mae Tao Clinic, and her right hand woman, Khun Eh Thwa.  They gave me their 2011 annual report to read.  Two impressions from the report:  1. It is very professional, really well done.  I was grateful to read it as background information before the trip.  2.  They need financial help.  The shortfalls are effecting the service they can provide.  Annual reports do not shake me up.  My visit did shake me and shake me hard; that's a good thing. Never again do I want to say "I should have".

This beutiful child was just being a child in the middle of it all.  
This morning I met with Eh Thwa and was given a tour of the facility.  Wow!   The report didn’t say anything about these people rocking my standing, kicking the chair out from under me and pile driving me into action!  But that’s what happened.

Donations are way down at Mae Tao Clinic, and if I understand it correctly, the reason is because many of the large donors are under the impression that the refugees and migrant workers are returning to their home country, Burma.  Not so much, gentle reader.  The fact is that the Mae Tao Clinic is serving something like between 300 and 500 people a day.   These people come in two categories:
  • 50% of them are migrant workers from Burma who are living and working in Thailand.
  • 50% are people who make a day trip from Burma to obtain medical services at the clinic.  In Burma they would have to pay for the service, and most of them simply do not have the money.

There are rumors that the clinic will move from Mae Sot across the border into Burma.  This is not true.  The clinic does  provide support to the Pa Hite clinic.  That will continue, but the Mae Tao clinic will remain where it is.   The clinic has three main areas of activity.  Tonight we get a just a peek at the first one, health services.  Providing medical training and child protection will be discussed later.

I’m so glad I went on a Monday.  It’s both registration day and inoculation day.  The place was teaming with people.  I received a quick tour and many more statistics than I’m going to share with you tonight.  Having said that: 300-400 people will be on any Monday, Wednesday or Friday.
The registration que
There are between 3 and 10 live births at the clinic every day!  Some days there are as many as 15. If I get time I’ll try to get a report by date. Will I find a spike during the full moon?  I’d bet on it.

Reminded me of the first time i saw my grandson
Over the past 11 years they have fitted more than 260 people with prosthetics.  80% of them are landmine victims.  
Way too many lost limbs, most from land mines.
Landmines Suck
They have dental, optical, pediatric and mental health services.  They even have an acupuncture center.

Stroke Victim receiving acupuncture. They are seeing progress in his recovery.
If you or someone you know donates to any of the great causes related to the please keep the donations coming.  These people need your help and the refugees and migrant workers are not returning to their homes in Burma. More will be coming as I have time to research.  Today, I just have to tell you that the Mae Tao Clinic will rock your world if you come and spend a bit of time with the people there!

Friday, September 07, 2012

Symposium on Local Wisdom & Improving Life

When I was in college, don’t ask how long ago, I took a fascinating course called “Futures Management” which dealt with looking at the possible things we could do to have effect on the future and some predictions about the future.  What would the world be like after the turn of the century, more than 20 years in the future?   We read many things written by futurists.  Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” was one of our texts. “The Third Wave” had just been released; many of us added it to list of reading material.  Some of the predictions have come true, or partly true.  Sadly most of those were made by pessimists.  The optimists view never merged with reality, especially where energy and conservation are concerned. Perhaps they underestimated the power of short term greed at every level.  Frankly I hadn’t thought much about my futures course recently, that is until I was invited to attend and write about “The Inaugural International Symposium on Local Wisdom and Improving the Quality of Life”.

This Symposium was opened by Yingluck Shinawatra, The Prime Minister of Thailand.  This says a lot for the value placed on this symposium.
The Prime Minister Pays Respect to the King
Clearly, it was a media frenzy

PM Officially opens the symposium

Prime Minister  Yingluck Shinawatra
The symposium was sponsored by the Rajamangala Universities (There are nine of them throughout Thailand).  The host and primary organizer was Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna, Chiang Mai.  The three day event took place at the Royal Park Rajapruek, Chiang Mai which is a beautiful, stunning actually, botanical garden with lovely meeting spaces.   The theme or central question was: “How will the community’s way of life be in the next 20 years”?   Participants from academia, government and industry made presentations.   The symposium was organized around five main topics:

  • Way of Life in Harmony with the Environment
  • Community Entrepreneurship
  • Laying the Foundation for Strong Community
  • Culture and Tourism
  • Community Education and Local Wisdom

These people know they need to preserve the village community if the future is to be good.  They face challenges and are asking hard questions.  Perhaps the central question is: How do they find a balance between preservation of culture within the small communities, the environment and both economic and academic progress.  These small communities are ethnic minorities.  In many ways they are analogous to the Native Americans, the difference being that it appears Thailand is attempting to preserve their culture..

The list of presenters and attendees was impressive!    May I suggest you spend a few minutes at The symposium website ? Not all of it is in English, but the important historical aspects are. Besides this is a Thai project for the Thai’s, the language should be Thai.
Phonesvan Bilavarn Luangprabang Laos
 Dr Cynthia Maung Mae Toa Clinic Thailand
Sangduen Chialert, Conservationist
Prayat Worapricha, Rajamangala Univeristy
There were fascinating exhibits in the hall adjacent to the meeting rooms.  Some of the exhibits were typical public relations, others were truly history lessons. As I walked around the hall taking pictures, I was often invited to be a part of the photograph.

The Rajamangala University Bangkok Contingent plus
(Yes that's in the middle)
Fresh from the farm, no chemicals
Anchient Instructions for Thai Massage

Lantern Makers from Chiang Rai 

Lanterns from Chiang Rai

I had the opportunity to meet several of the organizers and participants.   Doors have been opened and I look forward to the learning that is my future.   A sincere THANK YOU to my friend and teacher, Ajaan Prayat Worapricha for seeing to my invitation and making many of the introductions.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Was the silence deafening?

Gentle Reader,

I just realized that there has been nothing new posted here since the 2nd of March.  That is more than a half a year.  Where has the time gone?  Where in the universe has my head been?  Those of you who follow my other blog, Asian Elephant Stories have an idea, but that’s not the whole story.    I’ve also become involved in some rather interesting aspects of living as an ex-patriot in Northern Thailand and plan to post a series of two, three or four articles on that subject in the next few days.   Let me give you a tiny preview.

What if one were to move to Thailand and then find an urge for the familiar?    Well here in Chiang Mai we have something called the Chiang Mai Ex-Pats club which meets monthly, provides presentations of interest and networking opportunities. The club has an SOS element, an excellent concept.  Members who subscribe receive emergency assistance.  There is an extra charge and while it’s only ฿2,000. I would prefer to see it available to all members, but that’s just my opinion.  Personally I think the club is an excellent resource for people who are newly arrived.  There are outside group activities sponsored by the club and several vendors who are affiliated with the club. I’ve used the services of two or three of their favored vendors and have no complaints.   My favorite vendor has to be Fashion King.  I found it necessary to have a suit made.  You will know why when I post my next article “The International Symposium on Local Wisdom and Quality of Life”.   O.K. back to the present.

There is a unique organization called Lanna Care Net.  Their mission is to care for aging foreigners in the Chiang Mai area.  The Thai government is unable to help foreigners and quite often these people are denied help from their country of origin.  An American consulate officer explained that while they would like to help it’s often not politically or fiscally possible. The mission of the consulate is not to care for individual citizens.  I didn’t realize that!   Lanna Care Net (LCN) tries to fill the void, providing volunteers that visit with aging and infirmed foreigners.  They liaise and cooperate with other groups such as the ex-pats club, the various hospitals and even Alcoholics Anonymous.   LCN will have their Christmas Shopping Fair on November 24th.  It will be co-sponsored by the Royal British Legion, another excellent organization.  I would love to have a table and sell photographic art.  However I have a previous engagement which will actually turn into a wedding the day before in Issan. (Oh my goodness, could that be another personal blog article)?

Americans will be familiar with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I have belonged to VFW posts in the past but was never really involved beyond the bar and the kitchen. I just joined the Chiang Mai VFW post.  If you are an American Veteran I highly recommend you join the VFW where ever you may be, but especially if you are living overseas.  This is an excellent source of information and support.  At my first meeting I found out I made a horrible mistake with my Medicare.  The post service officer is researching solutions. He knows who to ask and perhaps more importantly what to ask.  Another American that I met a couple of years ago was recently in a horrific motor cycle accident, leaving him with a broken neck and a broken back.  The VFW post is all over this.  They have been with him providing both moral and physical report.  A ramp is being donated to allow him access to his home and they are raising money to buy him a motor cycle with a sidecar, custom made to suit his requirements.  These guys are simply the best!  One gentleman I met turned out to be a fellow member of the 46th Special Forces Company (Airborne) Association.

English speaking ex-pats can find many familiar things here.  The backpacker set seem to be delighted with McDonalds and other chain food.  It must be an age thing. Personally I prefer real food. People can  also suffer from “Culture Shock”  My British friends don’t mind that the Thais drive on the left side of the road and I’m more than happy to stand up and respect the King when the national anthem plays at 08:00 and 18:00.  Sometimes the smog is almost unbearable and yet the food usually has flavor. The Thai respect their elders and at 68 I rather enjoy that.  A young man I know was finishing his master’s degree and had no plans for the future.  A Thai friend offered to introduce him to a local university where teaching positions were available.  His response was “No thank you.  I have no intention of uprooting my family, moving half way around the world to a totally different culture”.  Other people seem to be clamoring for an opportunity to live abroad, especially here.  You may soon be able to read my take on this cultural difference. In the meantime there are excellent books on the subject.  The big ones seem to be “Culture Shock” and “Working with the Thais”.