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Cynthia Maung

"I dream of going back home to Burma one day. But until then, we need to give hope."

Cynthia Maung (born 1959), a trained doctor from Karen State in Burma, fled to Thailand in 1988 and set up the Mae Tao Clinic. Every year the clinic saves the lives of thousands of refugees and migrant workers. It supports remote field clinics in Burma serving internally displaced persons and sponsors women's organizations and health education. It trains medics to provide health care throughout the Thai-Burma border. Dr. Maung has set up an orphanage, and supports schools and boarding houses. The Mae Tao clinic receives financial support from NGOs and grants from foreign governments.

Cynthia Maung spent seven nights crawling through the jungle to escape civil war in Burma. In 1988 the military junta shot thousands of students calling for democracy. "Everything felt so volatile and dangerous," Cynthia recalls. "And I felt there was not much I could do to help as a young doctor inside Burma." When she arrived in Mae Sot, just over the Thai border, Cynthia was shocked by the number of Burmese pouring into the refugee camps. Many were wounded and traumatized, and hundreds were dying of malaria. "There was a desperate need for emergency healthcare and humanitarian assistance," she says. With the help of foreign relief workers and village leaders, Cynthia started a makeshift clinic in an old barn with a tin roof. Her tools: a medical textbook and a rice cooker for sterilizing instruments. She and her team worked day and night to save the lives of thousands of refugees. "At the start, I only planned to stay three months. But more sick and wounded arrived every day and there was so much to do." Over the past 16 years, Dr. Cynthia, as she is known locally, has transformed the Mae Tao Clinic into a multi-speciality medical center that logs more than 58,000 patient visits a year. Over 200 staff and trainees provide everything from care for HIV-positive mothers to rehabilitation for amputees. The clinic supports schools and orphanages and is also a refuge for abused women. "We are always overcrowded, or face a shortage of food or water and electricity," she explains. "And patient numbers keep rising as more flee Burma. But I love what I do." Despite repeated death threats, Dr. Cynthia has worked tirelessly to set up field clinics inside Burma. Her staff also trains refugees to become health workers. "We need to fight death and treat disease, but also to empower our people and educate children so that our communities can grow strong."

Mae Tao Clinic

Southeastern Asia | Burma