March was yet another very busy month at the Burma Children Medical Fund's (BCMF) B.K. Kee Patient House with the Sewing Skills and English Language Development programs running with the cooperation of BEAM Education Foundation and the Interact Club students from Chiang Mai International School. By the time this newsletter is published the 8-session sewing workshop will be completed and in our next bulletin I will go into more depth about this program. The English Language Development program will continue but without the participation of CMIS Interact club (pictured, above, with B.K. Kee House patients and caregivers) as they will be on a month-long break during April. During this time members of CMIRC will follow up on some of the units that have been introduced so far as well as work on some basic conversational phrases.
This month I would like to take the opportunity to focus on a very important employee, Mi Aye, who has been working as part of the BCMF team since 2015. In addition to her many contributions to the success of the BCMF B.K. Kee Patient House, her personal story is quite remarkable. Many thanks to BCMF’s director, Kanchana Thornton for providing Mi Aye’s background story.
Mi Aye’s connection to BCMF began when she was referred in 2009 as a young cardiac patient who needed help to have her pacemaker checked and replaced. This device helps regulate her heartbeat to a normal rate so she can carry on with her everyday life.
At the age of three, Mi Aye’s parents moved the family to Mae La refugee camp as unregistered refugees to escape conflict in their home village in Karen State, Burma. It was during this time when her mother noticed Mi Aye had a heart problem. Her first pacemaker was inserted in 2004 at the age of 11 years old with the help from a medical NGO that was working in the camp at the time. She is one of four sisters that was lucky enough to receive support from her aunt who helped her parents cover the cost of her education in a Thai school near the refugee camp. Mi Aye completed grade 12 and by then, the family had moved out of the camp to set up home in Tha Song Yang District in Tak Province, Thailand. Her father worked as a day laborer on a farm and her mother worked as a daycare provider. Mi Aye was able to finish her schooling and then got a job in a phone shop.
In 2009, Mi Aye had her pacemaker replaced and needed annual check-ups. BCMF was able to provide the ongoing support she required during the time at the BCMF’s house as a patient. At the house she provided help with translation for other Karen patients. Mi Aye made it known that if an opportunity was available to formally take a paid position at the house, she was very interested. In 2015 a need for someone with her skills and background became available and Mi Aye joined the team and was provided with more training for the position. Her job is to translate for the patients during their hospital visits, helping communicate with the hospital medical staff as well as applying computer and phone skills to assist the patients and caregivers. Mi Aye is also responsible for accounting as well as managing the patients who are older than her and getting them to understand and follow through on treatment and aftercare.
In addition, Mi Aye also helps the house residents with recreation and supports projects at the head office in Mae Sot. In 2019 Mi Aye taught herself and the residents how to make washable pencil cases for BCMF’s school stationery project in Karen State and Mae Sot. They made a total of 1,100 pencil cases.
In 2020, due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the patients and caregivers were unable to return home. The staff have the responsibility to keep the house residents occupied and make the best use of their time. With the support from Mae Sot office, Mi Aye started to search on YouTube for how to make face masks and transform used clothing into mats, bags and quilts in order to teach the house residents useful skills. Together, they have sewn over 400 face masks that were given out to Thai hospital staff and used for BCMF’s projects in Mae Sot. Mi Aye continues to expand her arts and crafts skills to share with the patients and caregivers.
It has been a pleasure to work with Mi Aye as well as to get to know more of the BCMF staff both here in Chiang Mai and in Mae Sot. Kanchana has assembled a most impressive team and we can all be grateful to be supporting such an amazing program.
Above, Mi Aye is helping a patient before Covid-19. Below, she displays her artistic ability with her facemask removed just for the photo.
If any Rotarians are interested in joining us on our every other Sunday visits, please reach out to Bill Pierce, B.K. Kee Patient House Project Champion. Temperature screening is done when we arrive and we are required to wear face coverings during the entire visit. We leave the Shell station at 11:00 (on Huay Kaew Rd.) on Sunday mornings and usually complete our visit around 12:45.