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Finding a refuge at Dr. Cynthia's.

Spying my camera bag and Western face on the main road leading out of the city of Mae Sot in northern Thailand, a young man slowed his scooter down until he was idling next to me. "Are you going to Dr. Cynthia's?" he asked.

A short "moto" ride later, I hopped off with a "thank you" at "Dr. Cynthia's," the Mae Tao clinic, a bustling 2-acre compound 3 kilometers shy of the border with Burma. Dr. Cynthia Maung started the clinic in an old barn in 1989, treating people escaping from the chaos across the border.

Mae Tao has evolved into the only full-service medical facility for the area's Burmese migrant workers. More than 60 percent of the clinic's patients now come from the Mae Sot migrant workers' community, although many tribal people still travel for weeks across Burma for emergency care and specialized treatment. A refugee from Burma's Karen tribe herself, Maung understands their plight intimately. These are people whose struggle is essentially unknown to the outside world and likely to be further ignored now that so much attention has shifted to the region's tsunami disaster.

The clinic has evolved along with the needs of the migrant and refugee communities. Staff at Dr. Cynthia's told me that a sad new area of work has been caring for abandoned and orphaned children.

Parents arrive at the clinic grievously ill with AIDS. When the parents pass away, they leave behind children without papers, family, even histories. Often the children have been infected in utero with HIV. Many of the children featured in my photo essay on life in Mae Sot, "Mission: Burma" (pages 38-43), are growing up at Dr. Cynthia's officially stateless and facing doubtful futures.

"The civilian people of Burma are under constant oppression," Maung says. "As the community becomes more and more disrupted, it becomes 'sick,' physically and socially.

"We are health-care workers, but we are not only treating illnesses," she says. "We are trying to build a community again."

A sign that it may be possible to return to Burma, she says, may be if the people themselves are able to reconstruct the nation's faltering public health services. Might that be the time she could also return? Dr. Cynthia, a regular target of Burma's ruling junta, only smiles softly. "That's not possible for me," she says.

On a sad note, Claretian Publications lost its promotions manager, Chuck Rash, who died shortly after the Christmas holidays. Although he had only been with us for a short time, he made a real impression on all of us with his professionalism and his sense of humor. He will be greatly missed. This Easter, as we celebrate our hope in resurrection, we remember Chuck.
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Title Annotation:Dr. Cynthia Maung's medical facility
Author:Clarke, Kevin
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:9THAI
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Words:452
Previous Article:Let this cup pass.
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