BPHWT Annual Report

Here are highlights from the Backpack Healthworker Team Annual Report from 2011.  If you’re interested in reading the entire report, please let us know and we’ll get it to you.  It’s  over 17MB so it’s a little big to post the entire report here.

Summary of 2011 BPHWT report


85  health worker teams served more than 200,000

  • 4 new teams were created in 2011
  • In April 2011, independent agencies traveled into eastern Burma to assess BPHWT processes and operations and determined that the teams’ monitoring and reporting were among the strongest of any cross border organization in Burma’s conflict zones
  • BPHWT seeks to create 12 new teams to meet the needs resulting from regime’s increased violence in Shan and Kachin States

Security Situation

Despite talks of reform in the urban areas and preliminary ceasefire discussions, the regime increased and expanded its violence against the ethnic minorities and continued wide-spread human rights abuses that are detrimental to the health of hundreds of thousands people.

In Karen State, starting in February 2011, the Burma army attempted to tighten its control over the border area and suppress the KNLA.  Fighting routinely occurred among the army, its Border Guard Force (BGF), the DBKA and KNLA with factions often switching sides.  Despite overtures of a ceasefire, the Burma army deployed additional troops and supplies into Karen State to sustain and expand its violence.

In Kachin State, the regime unilaterally broke a 17 year ceasefire.  Since June, heavy fighting has occurred, forcing more than 36,000 people to flee.  The regime has sought to create intra-Kachin rivalries as a means to destroy the Kachin peoples’ ability to protect themselves.  Burma’s President Sein ordered the army to cease offensive operations in December 2011; however the army intensified the violence instead.

In Shan State, the regime unilaterally broke a 22 year truce.  Between March 13 and April 6th, 65 battles occurred.  Between July 2 and August 5th, more than 50 battles occurred.  This violence caused more than 30,000 people to flee their villages and homes.

In addition to fighting, the Burma army continues to plant landmines, force villagers to work without pay, steal food, extort money and randomly rape.

Combined, the violence and human rights abuses place not only the population at risk but also the backpack medics as they seek to move among the population they serve.  As an example of the risk, a Burma army patrol detained 2 medics traveling to assist a post-partum woman.

Among the documented cases of abuse and violence, there are:

  • 17 civilians were summarily executed
  • There were dozens of cases of landmines placed to inflict indiscriminate harm
  • Army troops stole food and/or animals from villagers
  • There were hundreds of cases of villagers forced to work for the Burma army without compensation
  • Rape and gang rape occurred

Backpack Health Worker Team response

Against this backdrop, BPHWT have 85 teams in the field.   They supported 586 villages and provided medical care for more than 80,000 people.  They serve a population of 206,000 men, women and children.  There are 318 medics in the field – 28 more than in 2010.

Medical Care Program:  treated 80,680 patients

  • 11,800 cases of malaria
  • 18,900 cases of mild or severe ARI (pneumonia)
  • 6,700 cases of dysentery/diarrhea
  • 4,300 cases of worms

Malaria:  Since 2007, BPHWT have used paracheck to confirm malaria and now treat with first-line drugs, Arteminisin Combination Therapy (ACT) treatment

  • Since 2010, malaria mortality rates have decreased 18% overall and by 35% for children under 5
  • Malaria is still the leading cause of death

Diarrhea and dysentery:  cases significantly decreased in 2011.

  • Under 5 cases dropped by 44% and 32% respectively
  • Total cases dropped 39% and 22% respectively
  • Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death for children under 5, responsible for nearly 1 in 6

Measles:  Increased by 37% for children under 5 while it increased by 49% for all

Worms:  Worm infestation decreased by 38% for children under 5 and 20% for all

TB:  Suspected cases decreased by 27% for children under 5 and 23% for all.  However, BPHWT are not equipped to treat TB and can only advise those suspected with it where to seek help.  BPHWT desire to expand care to include TB case management

Community Health Education and Prevention Program (CHEPP)

School Health programs:  treated 24,000 students in 357 schools.

Water and Sanitation

  • BPHWT built 15 gravity flow water systems and 23 shallow wells, benefiting 8,500 people
  •  Latrines:  2,390 general and 26 school latrines

Maternal and Child Health Program

BPHWT supported 3,412 births

  • 3,356 lives births
  • 50 still births and 53 neo-natal deaths (3% or 301 per 10,000)
  • 13 maternal deaths (.38% or 381 per 100,000 births.  This is half the rate throughout eastern Burma where no BPHWT or similar support is available.  It is also 48 times the rate in the U.S.)

While this report may offer a glimmer of positive news, it should be remembered that the rise in violence renders accurate and complete reporting more difficult.  In addition, the report documents the urgent need for BPHWT continued presence.`

Nearly 75 percent of Burma’s population does without regular electricity!

Protests continue in Mandalay in outrage over power outages.

May 21, Reuters
Power cuts spark Myanmar’s biggest protest in 5 yrs – Aung Hla Tun

Hundreds rallied for a second day in one of Myanmar’s biggest cities on Monday to protest against chronic power outages, in the largest demonstrations since the army crushed a monk-led uprising nearly five years ago.

Several hundred marched peacefully on Monday in Mandalay, 380 km (236 miles) north of the commercial capital Yangon, witnesses told Reuters, a day after about 1,000 had gathered to protest against constant power cuts.

“Two similar marches were taking place at two different places about 8 p.m,” one witness, Ko Tun Myint, a boutique owner, told Reuters by telephone.

Describing Sunday’s protest, he said demonstrators had marched in downtown Mandalay holding candles while others carried placards demanding a more regular electricity supply.

Protests are rare in Myanmar, where dissent was brutally suppressed during 49 years of military rule, which ended last March when a reformist, quasi-civilian government took office.

Demonstrations have since been legalised, although rights groups say the laws are accompanied by tight restrictions, such as the requirement to notify the authorities several days in advance of a rally.

Another witness in Monywa, northeast of Mandalay, told Reuters a similar march over power shortages was also taking place there. The details could not be immediately confirmed.

At it’s peak, the protest was the biggest since September 2007, when monks marched against military rule after troops had crushed protests sparked by sharp rises in fuel and cooking gas prices. At least 30 people were killed and hundreds were arrested and beaten.

Despite producing hydroelectric power, much of Myanmar’s electricity output is exported to energy-hungry China in deals that have irked many Burmese. Chinese firms are expected to build and run 33 of the 45 planned hydropower plants in Myanmar.

About 75 percent of Myanmar’s 60 million people are without regular electricity, according to the Asian Development Bank. Power cuts are a daily occurrence even in the biggest city Yangon.

The issue is just one of many facing Myanmar and foreign firms looking to invest in the country, which has huge resource potential but is constrained by rudimentary transport, electricity and telecommunications infrastructure.

Ko Tun Myint said the regional-level minister of electrical power had held a news conference in Mandalay on Sunday to explain the power shortages and assure residents the supply would be increased.

Update from Minmahaw School

Everyone is aware of the dramatic political changes that have taken place in Burma during the past year, and many are filled with hope that Burma will now become a free and democratic society where all the refugees, migrants and activists can return to live normal, productive lives. But even though there seems to be a real (but not irreversible) move towards democracy at the top, life on the streets, in the towns and villages all over Burma, has not changed much. Ethnic minorities are still fighting the army, political prisoners are still behind bars, farmers remain indebted and oppressed, the courts continue to enforce the rule of corrupt local governments, the youth are still unemployed and uneducated, and the poor everywhere are living day to day without medical care or schools. The 3 million plus Burmese migrant workers in Thailand are not showing signs of going home. Conditions are just not there yet, and will not be for some years to come, even assuming that the current momentum for political change does not fade.

Nevertheless, many foreign corporations, governments, and NGOs have turned their attention to working with the population inside Burma. There is no doubt that much of this aid and investment will be helpful, but border organizations like ours are watching our funding dry up, while we still have thousands to care for. Minmahaw’s Higher Education Program again saw over 500 applicants this year for our 24-seat GED class, plus students are already lining up for our other activities as well. While there are groups interested in copying our successful programs inside Burma, the environment there will not yet allow them the freedom to do what we do here in Thailand. We are still the standard for Burmese post high school academic programs. This is the situation we face as we begin our 2012-13 school year.


The GED (General Educational Development) course is Minmahaw’s flagship program. GED students live together in their own dorms, share household duties and classes, and speak English 24 hours a day. After a year of intensive training, we sent 20 of our current 24 students to Bangkok last week to take the GED exam, to try for the US high school equivalency certificate that will allow them access to scholarships and university education in Thailand and abroad.

Currently we have graduates in English language programs at Asia Pacific University, Rangsit University, Bangkok University, and Mahidol University, as well as schools in Hong Kong and the Philippines. These are the most promising Burmese students in the migrant community, in both academic ability and character. Eleven of our current GED students have already been awarded scholarships. The rest will stay on here to help with Minmahaw’s growing management needs, or use their new skills to join with border NGOs, look for private sector jobs in Thailand, or return to Burma to try their luck, with an international standard of education that most of their compatriots will never have.

From the many GED applicants for the coming year, 24 have again been selected, after passing a battery of tests and interviews, all with high hopes and determination to get the education that will give them the necessary intellectual tools to return home and rebuild their country.


Most of those who do not get selected for GED will apply for the 40+ seats in MEF’s Post Ten program. Like GED, the Post Ten students live together for a year in supervised dorms and participate in chores, building a solid team spirit among students of different ethnic backgrounds. Our Post Ten program saw 42 students graduate in March. Of these, 7 have been accepted into next year’s GED program. Others will go on to specialized programs available in border schools and

camps, pursue local employment, or return home.

All of our Post Ten teachers and management staff are unpaid volunteers who share our idealistic vision and give generously of their time and skills to Minmahaw. It is remarkable to see the change that a year of English, Math, Science, Social Studies, taught with an emphasis on critical thinking and student-centered learning, has made on these courageous kids, some of whom had never been far from their village or town before. They all have a well-earned confidence and self-respect that will serve them in whatever path they travel from here.

One of the unique subjects at Post Ten is the Business Through Agriculture (BTA) course, set up by our teacher Tom. Along with their regular studies, students participate in running a small mushroom farm which we constructed on a nearby lot. They learn not only the practice of small scale agriculture, but also the business skills of planning, marketing, and bookkeeping for a small commercial enterprise. An added benefit is having delicious mushrooms for our school lunches.

Exams for seats in the incoming Post Ten class will be given next week, and we are again expecting a record turnout. Programs like ours are few, and as word gets out we see more applicants, not only from the refugee camps and border schools, but from students inside Burma, some even with university degrees, who realize that they have learned little of value in the deteriorated education system in Burma. As usual, we will do our best to give them what their government does not.


All the Burmese border schools close for the summer holidays in April and May, so Minmahaw has decided to offer once again its popular summer program, 2 months of an introduction to the kind of instruction students can expect in Post Ten and GED. This year, under the direction of our dynamic volunteer head teacher Brian, we are offering art, music, and physical education, in addition to the staples of English, science, social studies and math. Over 60 students, from a broad range of ethnicities, language skills, and backgrounds, are currently enrolled.


For the past 2 years, Minmahaw has offered short vocational training courses to prepare graduates for the limited range of white-collar jobs available for Burmese in Thailand. We had to cancel our computer and media training programs this year for lack of funds, but we still managed to offer a teacher training course and a bookkeeping course. With about 20 students each, these 2-month summer courses provide the basic skills of a professional program in areas where there is significant local demand for workers. NGOs and small businesses generally need more accounting help than is

available, so chances for employment are good. Teacher training graduates typically go on to teach English and other subjects in the local Burmese migrant schools, but this year some Thai primary schools asked to hire our graduates as entry- level English teachers for their younger students. If this program is successful, we will be able to provide beginning careers in teaching for many graduates. This work experience will be invaluable in giving them the skills they will need to help restore the Burmese education system at its roots.


Last year we opened a small kindergarten, which we call Minthuwon, in a 300-person migrant worker village deep in the agricultural area south of Mae Sot. These workers had no way to take care of their small children while they toiled in the fields. For a US $3,000 investment, we built a small schoolroom, dug a well, trained local teachers, and bought school supplies. Now 30 kids (up to age 12) are attending class every day, learning Burmese, Thai, English, and math, and parents are able to spend their

workday in the fields. Our entire GED class went there last month to install a donated water purifier, so now the whole village gets safe drinking water too. These kinds of projects are a great inspiration to us all, and we hope to do more of them in the future.


The Burma Independent News Agency (BINA) was our first social enterprise project in Mae Sot, back in 1998. With funding from international NGOs, we published the monthly, democracy-oriented political newspaper MOJO, to enthusiastic response from the Burmese diaspora, and the paper continues to this day. BINA also engages in video projects, and has a small commercial copying and book binding service. We want BINA to again print its popular bi-weekly migrant worker magazine, “Evening Star”, which will include commercial advertising, once start-up money becomes available.

In order to develop independent and local sources of funding for our ongoing education programs, Minmahaw is setting up the Mae Sot Language Academy, a small commercial enterprise to teach English to Thai school kids. Everything is now in place for an opening next month,

with marketing help from our Thai friends. If successful, this program will allow us to rent a large house, provide a Burmese student coordinator with a paycheck, and bring income to the Post Ten and other education projects. It will also build good relations with the Thai community and enhance Minmahaw’s public image.

Minmahaw’s legal situation in Thailand has always been precarious. Unable to hold public events, hire workers, or even open a bank account, we have been vulnerable to police harassment and other abuses, which limit our ability to engage in social welfare activities for the migrants. Our Thai Foundation project will file for “legal charitable organization” status for Minmahaw with the Thai government. We have already gotten commitment from five wonderful Thai citizens to be our Board of Directors, and our lawyer is in the process of requesting approval. Thanks to generous donors from the US and elsewhere, we have raised the money necessary for fees. If all goes well, we

expect to have our first official public Board meeting later this year in Mae Sot. You are all invited, of course!


Minmahaw’s success over the past 5 years has been driven by the daunting educational needs of our target population, the underserved migrant worker community. Our activities and reputation have grown rapidly, and our graduates form a close and devoted group who are a resource for present and future projects. Our amazing donors and volunteer teachers are the life blood that keeps Minmahaw going.

The future is full of challenges. Just as the world’s attention moves from the border areas to inside Burma, economic developments in the West are making charitable support for border groups harder to get. In response, we are moving ahead with our Thai legal status project, creating local businesses, and expanding our fund generating activities. When the time is right, we even plan to move some of our activities inside Burma. With your sustaining participation and support, we will continue to help and encourage this new generation of Burmese youth to rescue and rebuild their beautiful country.

Make a donation to Minmahaw at Just Give

Giving a hand

Wilbur with his new handDuring our travel to the Thai-Burma border this year, we met Wilbur, a young man who lost his arm to a landmine. The SPDC placed mines along a well used path near his village. He and three others went to clear the mines to help protect his community. Wilbur told us that this is something he’d done a number of times. Tragically, on that morning, Wilbur tripped a mine and he lost his arm. Backpack Health Worker Teams asked if there was anything we could do

We found a wonderful organization, LN-4. The provide prosthetic hands to those in need…and Wilbur certainly was one in need. This past week, LN-4 completed training of the Backpack medics and delivered a over a dozen hands. Four young men gained a measure of independence that comes with having ‘2’ hands again.

The Backpack medics will now use their new training to bring the hands to those in Karen State and other conflict zones to help those with similar needs.

One of those at the training session in Mae Sot shared her thoughts with us upon seeing Wilbur. She said: Wilbur rarely smiles, but when he received his hand and was able to write and lift a cup, my heart melted at the sight of the big grin on his face.

Our sincere thanks to those at LN-4 who made this possible! We are honored to help connect two wonderful, compassionate organizations like LN-4 with Backpack Health Worker Teams.

In the tragic world that envelops eastern Burma, it is incredibly heart-warming to see how compassionate organizations come together to help those. In this case…to help a young man who risked his life for his village and community.

WIlbur is the father of 2 young children. When we spoke with him, he intensely wanted to gain the use of both his hands so he could care for his family and contribute again to his village. In the face of violence, it’s wonderful to see and support Wilbur’s commitment.