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At her Thai border clinic, Cynthia Maung treats victims of war from her native Burma

Dr. Cynthia Maung escaped from Burma two decades ago and now trains others at her clinic in Thailand to help refugees from the violence in her homeland.

Tibor Krausz

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After two decades, the ramshackle scrap-wood hut here that Cynthia Maung turned into a temporary clinic for destitute refugees is still in use.

She found shelter in the Thai border town of Mae Sot herself as a refugee in 1989, following the Burmese junta's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations the previous year. She'd fled through land-mine-infested jungles from the region of eastern Burma (Myanmar) where she'd worked as a village doctor among the indigent hill tribes.

Appalled by the misery of impoverished Burmese exiles in Thailand, Dr. Maung set up a free clinic for them. She scrounged medicine from foreign aid agencies and used a rice cooker to sterilize her instruments in boiling water.

She expected to go home within months.

Twenty years later, like hundreds of thousands of other Burmese migrants, Maung remains illegally in Thailand, living within sight of a homeland to which she can't return.

Yet she hasn't been idle. Her former clinic now houses volunteer medics and stands beside several concrete-block buildings with corrugated iron roofs in the self-contained leafy squatters' village that has grown up around it.

Her Mae Tao Clinic today boasts a trauma unit, a laboratory, and several patient wards, where emaciated men and women lie wrapped in their longyis, or Burmese sarongs, on simple wooden trestles covered with linoleum and bamboo mats. Relatives hold vigils by their sides, performing simpler nursing duties.


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