Together We Respond: DeBoer Lifelong Fellows Joined Hands to Make a Difference on the Frontline of the COVID-19 Outbreak in Rakhine State
Life, for Dr. Nay Lin Tun, is not a straight path. He does what needs to be done at the time and he is very decisive. After graduating from the DeBoer Fellowship in 2016, he got the opportunity to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. While in the Master’s program, Dr. Nay Lin Tun co-founded the Center for Social Integrity together with a few other friends and returned to work in Myanmar.
The Center for Social Integrity started operating a mobile clinic project in Rakhine State in late 2017. He learned what was the situation on the ground and shared it with his friends across the DeBoer network. His passion grew and he wanted to serve the underprivileged in Buthidaung and Maungtaw Townships.
However, after working for a year and half in Rakhine, he did go back to Singapore in 2019 to finish his Master’s degree. He then returned to Myanmar and assisted COVID-19 prevention projects in Northern Rakhine with Center for Social Integrity. There, he got a job with the World Health Organization (WHO) in September 2020 as a Field Coordinator for AIDS Clinical Support Program in Sittwe. Again, he found himself working in the field where he desired.
Since the first wave of COVID-19 in Myanmar, Dr. Nay Lin Tun, with support from Dr. Kyaw Swar Aung ’18, and the organization he co-founded, Center for Social Integrity, have been leading four big COVID-19 prevention projects in Buthidaung, Maungtaw and Rathedaung Townships in Rakhine State.
This is Dr. Nay Lin Tun’s story of compassionate leadership that led to a group of volunteers fighting against COVID-19 in Rakhine State. In his own words:
It all started with a small grant we received from the DeBoer Fellowship. We were able to respond, first, in the borderline areas of Buthidaung and Maungtaw. However, we knew we needed to get to the central Rakhine regions, where government health workers cannot easily reach. I knew I could not do this alone. So, together with other DeBoer Lifelong Fellows, Dr. Kyaw Swar Aung ’18 and Dr. Nyi Nyi Zaw ’16, we started looking for ways to provide COVID-19 awareness information to people in the internally displaced people (IDP) camps in central Rakhine. We supported the local people with a loudspeaker set including microphones, amplifier, cables, CD player of health education messages in Rakhine language, batteries and all essential items to the IDP Camps in Mrauk U and Kyauk Taw Townships.
I was joined by DeBoer Lifelong Fellows in Rakhine – Nway Hlaing Oo’17 and Mary Kim ’20 – to distribute COVID-19 related health posters in Rakhine language that we received from Ministry of Health and Sport (MOHS). We successfully alerted people throughout the IDP camps. That is the first line of defense.
At this point, it had become like throwing a stone into the lake that creates continuous waves. Many organizations contacted and offered us to conduct similar activities in other IDP camps in Rakhine State. With help from other donors, we recently delivered essential medical supplies to the Sittwe General Hospital, worth eighty-million Kyat. During this period, I was able to connect with Ayerwaddy Foundation, which is currently renovating Sittwe General Hospital. I persuaded them to help build a COVID-19 Ward for Sittwe Hospital and promoted the Intensive Care Units for regional hospitals.
Small Things Matter
As a medical officer from Isolation Ward, I could daily check and contact the patients. From these interactions, I noticed that both the patients and the hospital staff were hungry as meals were not regularly delivered on time. I realized that having snacks would help them. I discussed this issue with DeBoer Lifelong Fellows Dr. May Thet Kyaw ‘16, Dr. Pyae Phyo Lwin ‘15 and Naing Soe Aye ’19 and started collecting donations from the DeBoer network and others. DeBoer Fellow Mary Zan ‘20 also assisted in collecting funds.
This COVID-19 situation we are facing now is like a gigantic stone which no one alone can push or move. During this pandemic, I shared the challenges I faced in Rakhine with my friends within the DeBoer Fellowship network. Many of them responded enthusiastically to my call and gave their support. I cannot say that COVID-19 in Rakhine is over but it has become stable and manageable, compared to what we are now seeing in Yangon.
A Humble Beginning
Back in 2017, while I was on a field trip with mobile clinic team, I offered basic medical trainings such as first-aid training to the youths and medical knowledge to Traditional Birth Attendants from Rakhine regions. I was later informed by the locals that they were able to apply their knowledge from my trainings whenever accidents occurred in their conflict-affected areas. What I did was a small thing and it is humbling to think that the result could somehow save the lives of others. As I always try to share what is needed from the healthcare perspective, this experience has prepared me for what I currently do for the pandemic response in Rakhine with a much higher impact.
On DeBoer Fellowship
I have been really impressed by the strong network of DeBoer Lifelong Fellows. Without a strong community network, fundraising activities and volunteering efforts would not be successful. That’s one reason why I would like to honor the support we received from the DeBoer network. Together with people from this wide network, we can solve any problem even in the remote areas of Myanmar. During my time in the DeBoer Fellowship, I learned that understanding root causes of the problems is the single most important step in the process of forming a solution. I have also learned that big problems can be solved by taking a series of small actions.
In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all can make a difference in our own corner. Paraphrasing an old Chinese proverb, Dr. Nay Lin Tun says: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That is exactly how he began and since his first step, he has led many others in this difficult time of a global pandemic.
Dr. Nay Lin Tun is a 2016 DeBoer Fellow. He is the co-founder of Center for Social Integrity. He also works for the World Health Organization as a Field Coordinator in Sittwe. Currently, he serves as a volunteer in Sittwe General Hospital, joining the fight against COVID-19 on the frontline.