Mae Sot, Thailand – When Cynthia Maung stumbled across the Thai-Myanmar border into Mae Sot in 1988 after a 10-day jungle trek to flee a military crackdown in Yangon, she planned to stay a few months at most.
Twenty-two years later, Dr Maung’s Mae Tao clinic is a border institution, employing a staff of 634 who provide treatment to more than 2,000 patients a day suffering from malaria to amputated limbs.
Maung’s pioneering health work for Burmese refugees and migrant workers has not gone unnoticed. She has won a dozen international awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2003, and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2005.
The clinic, founded by Maung in 1989, has grown from a makeshift shack where she sterilized thermometers in a rice cooker to a sprawling, albeit still makeshift, community hospital with 150 beds, a laboratory, pharmacy, prosthetics centre, first-aid training programmes and a school.
Nearly half the patients are migrant workers and their families living in around Mae Sot, where an estimated 200,000 Burmese survive in a semi-legal limbo.