Girl Determined gives hope to girls in Burma

One of our donors wanted to understand the opportunities available for girls in Burma/Myanmar who want to attend college and attain professional careers.  A correspondent from Girl Determined replied.   I wanted to share her response with you.  You can make a donation to empower girls in Burma on our website here.  Just check the box for Girl Determined under the heading “My Reason for Donating.”

From Girl Determined:

“The issues surrounding strict gender role norms and discrimination against the girl child start very young, some would say at birth, and, at puberty are exacerbated.  This leads to a high level of drop out for girls in lower secondary school, particularly in poor communities – both rural and urban.  Many boys also drop out of school from 5th grade through the end of high school.  However, the consequences of drop out on a girl’s life tend to be dire compared to boys.

“So, let’s imagine that a girl does make it through to the end of high school, 11 years of education, which means she is about 16 or 17 years old.  She must then pass the matriculation exam.  Even in the best city-based schools, only about half of the students pass the matriculation exam.  And, the score on the matriculation exam determines the subject you will enter in university.

“This is also a gendered process.  Girls have to score about 10% higher on their matriculation exam to be accepted to pursue a degree in medicine, the most sought after school.  And, at certain levels of exam attainment, girls and boys are sorted into different degree paths.  So, for the same score, if you are female you will be sent to the school of basic education and your male counterpart will become a veterinarian.

“The public universities have no autonomy and these realities are prescribed by national policy.  High achieving girls are at a particular disadvantage and all students lose out by not being allowed to select their own path of higher education study.

“On top of all this, the university system is broken.  The quality of education certainly does not prepare a student for an exciting career.  For women, families largely emphasize one’s reproductive role.  Though many women certainly make money, there are few families, and husbands that will manage any burden of the reproductive role to assist the woman in achieving any career goals.

“In my observation, this seems to have meant that women interested in higher level business position simply do not marry or really have much of a personal life and will live with their parents until they pass away.  Such women are highly criticized.   In office work, most women are found in supportive roles with much lower salary scales.

“The education system is broken before students reach university and so, though no reliable figures exist, we can say that fewer than 25% of people will attend university.  And, then the university quality of education is incredibly poor and terribly gendered, so perhaps not of much use to creating a productive and fulfilling life.

“There is a bill currently in front of parliament that is pushing major changes in higher education.  If it passes, it will be a good step.  But, then we will need to work at every level of schooling to ensure that gender equality exists and students are learning important critical thinking and analytical skills.

“Part of our work at Girl Determined is to assist girls in re-thinking some of the more dangerous manifestations of the gender role norms they have internalized.  Girls have learned that they are ‘shy, obedient and not-so-smart’ by nature.  Our weekly activities really help them to unpack these ideas and think honestly about their own characteristics and what they want to be and how they want to develop.  This is part of their individual thinking process that allows them to come up with new ideas for their lives and to really avoid falling into the traps of decisions made by other people about their own lives – early marriage, dropping out of school, exploitative labor etc.”

Overview of the Backpack Health Worker Team Proposal for 2013

You can read the full proposal here: 2013 BPHWT Proposal

Burma is a very ethnically diverse country with dozens of indigenous ethnic groups. After independence in 1948, marginalized ethnic groups began to take up arms in the country’s border regions in pursuit of increased autonomy. In addition to long-running instability in these areas, a military coup in 1962 led by General Ne Win marked the start of almost six decades of military rule. The subsequent military regimes, holding power in Burma, have been widely considered to be among the world’s most oppressive governments due to the denial of democratic freedoms; the widespread and systematic perpetration of human rights abuses against its own people; and the persecution of its ethnic minority groups. Despite recent internationally heralded “reforms” undertaken by President Thein Sein’s government, these changes have not yet manifested into substantial sustainable change on the ground.

The seventeen-year old ceasefire between the government of Burma and the Kachin Independence Organization was broken in 2011 and has driven the displacement of over 70,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees to the China-Burma border. Even as intense fighting continues in Kachin State, the government of Burma has pursued preliminary ceasefire and peace agreements since the end of

2011 with various ethnic groups in Chin, Arakan, Mon, Karen, Karenni and Shan States. Incidences of armed conflict have decreased significantly since the signing of these initial peace agreements, but fighting has continued in some ceasefire areas, particularly in Shan State. The government of Burma has prioritized development over political dialogue and inclusion, with the lull in fighting prompting incidences of land confiscation to increase exponentially in the ethnic resource-rich regions. Burma Army and their allied armed groups have been forcibly displacing civilians from their homes and confiscating land from villagers at a rapid rate for development projects and/or military camps, while providing the villagers with little or no compensation. The bulk of the development projects are resource extractive projects (i.e., hydropower dams, logging, mining, etc) and are proceeding often without the consultation of local community members and without valid environmental, health and social impact assessments, which is causing legitimate concern among community members that these projects will negatively affect them over the long-term.

In the conflict and current ceasefire areas, the Burma Army (Tatmadaw) and its allied armed forces continue to routinely commit widespread human rights violations against ethnic civilians. These widely documented abuses include forced labor, confiscation and destruction of food supplies, arbitrary taxation, torture, land confiscation, rape, and extrajudicial execution. These ongoing abuses demonstrate that the peace talks have not significantly improved the situation on the ground and that in order to achieve a meaningful, durable peace, the Burma government must be committed to resolving the underlying political and socioeconomic issues driving conflict in the ethnic border regions. The BPHWT recognizes the fragile nature of the peace process and how previous peace agreements have broken down; consequently, BP health workers will continue to take security precautions while traveling and providing health services until a genuine political dialogue and change occur.

(ii) The General Health Situation in Burma

Public health is another casualty of decades of military rule and ethnic oppression. Burma’s current rulers have not deviated from the negligent socioeconomic policies of the past and continue to chronically disregard basic essential social services. Despite almost $20 billion of approved foreign direct investments in 2011, which is more than the

previous two decades combined1, the regime spends around $17 per capita in 2010 on health, amongst the lowest in the world. According to the United Nations Development

Program’s development index, Burma spent less than 2% of total GDP in 2010 on health, leaving Burma in the 149th position in the United Nation’s Development Program’s Human Development Report for 20113. Burma is thus lagging far behind the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Today, Burma’s health indicators for child, infant, and maternal mortality rank amongst the worst in Asia. Burma’s infant mortality rate was estimated by UNICEF at 50 per 1,000 live births in 2010, with an under-five mortality rate of 66 in the same year4.

These figures also suffer highly unfavorable comparisons with the recorded infant and child mortality rates of Thailand for 2009 at 11 and 13 respectively5.

The main causes of morbidity and mortality in the country are overwhelmingly preventable from disease entities such as malaria, malnutrition, diarrhea, acute respiratory illnesses, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Burma continues to register the greatest number of malaria deaths and the highest malaria fatality rate of any country in Southeast Asia.

The Health of Internally Displaced Persons:

While the health indicators of Burma’s population rank amongst the poorest globally, the health of IDPs within Burma is even more serious cause for concern. Health indicators for the rural ethnic populations in eastern and southeastern areas are demonstrably worse than Burma’s national rates. IDPs face harsh living conditions in the jungle: their means of survival are a constant challenge. In addition to dealing with the burden of protracted conflict and the high frequency with which they are forcibly displaced, access to state healthcare systems is either extremely limited or non-existent. This situation has resulted in mortality rates which are comparable with some of the world’s most volatile countries at war as shown in the following table:

Eastern Burma’s demographics are characterized by high birth rates, high death rates, and the significant absence of men under the age of 45. These patterns are more comparable to recent war zones, such as Sierra Leone, than to Burma’s national demographics.

In 2010, BPHWT published a report entitled Diagnosis Critical, which demonstrates that a chronic health emergency exists in Eastern Burma. The survey-based report, covering 21 townships and 6,372 households in both ceasefire and non-ceasefire areas, brings to light a legacy of longstanding, official disinvestment in health coupled with protracted civil war and the abuse of civilians. The data showed that among the rural Eastern Burma population, child mortality rates are twice as high as the national average. Furthermore, 60% of deaths in children under the age of 5 are caused by preventable and treatable diseases (for example, acute respiratory infection, malaria, and diarrhea). Infectious diseases are the primary cause of death for both children and adults, with malaria accounting for almost half of all deaths. Moderate to severe malnutrition is also prevalent within IDP populations, at levels consistent with those found in Africa. 41.2% of children under five are acutely malnourished. A water and sanitation survey conducted by the BPHWT indicated that more than 56% rarely or never boil their water and that access to and use of latrines are low.

The estimated Maternal Mortality Rate within the IDP population ranks amongst the highest in the world. One in twelve women in Eastern Burma is at risk of death as a result of pregnancy or childbirth, a rate three times higher than the national average. Since most causes of maternal death are preventable within a functioning health system, this is strongly indicative of the lack of reproductive health-related care and services.

In a survey conducted in 2010 across the States and Divisions in which the BPHWT medics operate, 88% of births were shown to take place at home instead of in a hospital or clinic, usually only with the assistance of a traditional birth assistant (TBA). In unstable environments, it is not uncommon for internally displaced women to deliver their baby in the jungles located deep inside Burma, while hiding from the Burma army patrols. Overall, only 4% of IDP women had access to emergency obstetric care. Many also lack awareness of the dangers of pregnancy complications and how to avoid them. For example, the survey showed that only 41.1% received any iron supplements during their previous pregnancy.

Back Pack Health Worker Team

The BPHWT was established in 1998 by Karenni, Mon and Karen health workers to provide healthcare to IDPs, living along the eastern border of Burma, affected by many decades of civil war. In 2012, the BPHWT provided primary healthcare in 20 field areas with 95 teams to a target population of over 200,000 people. There are currently over 1,500 health workers, living and working in Burma, connected with the BPHWT consisting of 331 medics, 780 TBAs and 403 village health volunteers (VHVs).

As depicted in the Organizational Structure, the BPHWT is governed by the Leading Committee which is elected every three years by the BPHWT members. The Leading Committee is comprised of 13 members who serve a three year term. The Leading Committee appoints an Executive Board of 10 members. This Executive Board is required to meet monthly and make decisions on current issues and planned activities of the BPHWT. The BPHWT has a range of documents that guide the leadership, management, healthcare delivery, health information systems, and human resources of the organization. Full copies of any of these documents are available upon request.

The BPHWT Constitution: The Constitution provides the framework for the operation of the BPHWT through thirteen articles that define: the organization’s name, vision, mission statement, organizational identification, symbol, goals, objectives, policies and principles, actions and implementation, monitoring and evaluation, membership, election of the Leading Committee, amendments to t h e Constitution and organizational restructuring, employment of consultants, and job descriptions for positions.

Vision: The vision of the Back Pack Health Worker Team is that of a healthy society in Burma through a primary healthcare approach, targeting the various ethnic nationalities and communities in the border areas and remote interior regions of Burma.

Mission: The Back Pack Health Worker Team is organized to equip people with the skills and abilities necessary to manage and address their own healthcare problems, while working towards the long-term sustainable development of a primary healthcare infrastructure inBurma.

Goal: The goal of the Back Pack Health Worker Team is to reduce morbidity and mortality, and minimize disability by enabling and empowering the community through primary healthcare.

Financial Management and Accountability: The BPHWT has written financial policies and procedures guiding the Leading Committee, Executive Board, p r o g r a m coordinators, and field staff about financial management and accountability; the production of annual financial reports; and the requirement for an annual, independent audit. These documents establish the financial records to be kept; the management of bank accounts; the procedures for cash withdrawals, deposits transfers, receipts, disbursements and general administration funds; and liquidation of cash assets. There are also regulations for payments for board, lodging, travel and honorariums for services rendered.

Service System: Since 1998, the Back Pack Health Worker Team has been working towards developing an accessible, community-based, primary healthcare service system within the BPHWT field areas based on the health access indicators.

Student Scholarships at Mae La Refugee Camp, Thailand.

Here are BHM members Mike and Mehmet with the leadership of LMTC taken in January of 2012.

Saw Arthur, the administrator of the Leadership and Management Training College at Mae La Refugee Camp, Thailand sent a letter to BHM for emergency funding for scholarships for youth from Burma.

For the past two years, we have supported approximately a dozen students completing classes at the LMTC.  The college provides university level education in physics and English to ethnic minorities who fled Burma out of fear for their lives and have no other higher education opportunity available.  Even if they could gain admission to a University in Bangkok (which is daunting given they have no formal passport from Burma and are refugees), college costs are beyond their means.

Thus, LMTC fills a critical gap to help educate the next generation of democracy leaders for the ethnic minorities and Burma.  The operating costs of the school are sponsored by the organization Child’s Dream, but CD is not able to provide the funding for the living expenses for the students.

These students come from the several hundred thousand Karen, Mon, Kachin, Shan and other minority groups who live in Thailand without formal documentation or legal status.  These students live in adhoc dormitories where they are safe and supervised.   The scholarships we’ve provided pay for their basic necessities like rice and cooking oil, and $3.00/month pocket money for the students.   It costs under $350 per year to support a student.

The emergency funding request to is support 20 students to complete their senior year over the next 4 months at $70.00 per student.

One of the things that is so compelling about this request is that the girls who need scholarships have written to us, sharing their stories.  Here is an excerpt from one of the girls:

“Before I came to Mae La refugee camp, I used to live in Karen state. I lived three for four years and because of the civil war I had to flee and then I came to live in tham Hin camp since 1997. I lived in Tham Hin camp for 12 years and passed high school in 2009. then I come to Mae La Camp for my further study because at that time in Tham Hin camp, we didn’t have college or post ten schools. I chose LMTC for my further study because it is leadership and Management training college. I don’t have my relative so I stayed in LMTC hostel. I love to live in LMTC hostel and I don’t have any problems with my study and accommodation. but this years our donors reduce their donation for the dormitory students. Because of your kind donation we can overcome every challenge we have to face this year.

“This year is my last year in college. After graduation I will find the way or my scholarship program for my further study. if I have a chance , I will continue my study. if not , I will serve for people along Thai and Burmese and my community through teaching or being a community leader. I hope I wouldn’t only be helping the children in education, but I could as well as be able to educate adult through family planning, health care and build prosperous life for them.”

Our heartfelt thank you to to the 8 people who have already pledged to sponsor these students!  If you are interested in sponsoring a student or would just like to read more of their stories, please email Jen at jzurick @

Students at LMTC


Burma Humanitarian Mission Honored as 2012 Top-Rated Non-Profit

BHM has been honored with a prestigious 2012 Top-Rated Award by GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of user reviews about nonprofit organizations. We are proud of our accomplishments this year, including supplying over one million doses of medicine to the BPHWT, organizing the inaugural Run for Refugees and for the scholarships and fiscal sponsorships we’ve provided for education.  The Top-Rated Nonprofit award was based on the large number of positive reviews that BHM received – reviews written by volunteers, donors and clients. People posted their personal experience with BHM.  Being on the Top-Rated List comes at an important time of the year, as donors look for causes to support during the holiday season. “We are gratified by Burma Humanitarian Mission for its work,” said Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonprofits, “They deserve to be discovered by more donors and volunteers who are looking for a great nonprofit to support.” Being on the Top-Rated list gives donors and volunteers more confidence that this is a credible organization. The reviews by volunteers, clients and other donors show the on-the-ground results of this nonprofit. This award is a form of recognition by the community.