Experiences from the Myanmar diaspora community my story

By Thet Win Aung, In-office Volunteer, CGHP

In this blog, Thet describes his experiences of COVID-19 lock down. Thet writes as a member of the Myanmar diaspora community living in the East of England.

The UK and Myanmar are situated on opposite sides of the globe. Unsurprisingly, it takes a mammoth 24 hours to travel between the two countries. The weather, language, food, culture and traditions are completely different, and each country has its own unique set of characteristics. Despite these enormous differences, I – a Myanmar citizen, decided to come to the UK.  

Thet (right) with the CGHP team. Image taken before lock down.

In 2014 my wife was offered a place on the Medical Training Initiative (MTI) scheme at Hull University Teaching Hospital. She is now undertaking specialty training in gastroenterology in the East of England region. In 2019 I made the decision to move to the UK to support my wife and family.

I was born and raised in Yangon, Myanmar. Like my wife, I studied medicine but chose not to practice clinically. Instead I devoted my life to the public health and community development sector, working for different organizations for almost 10 years. Included were primary health care, mother and child health and local governance projects.

From the moment I landed in the UK, I was keen to find a role that allowed me to continue feeding my knowledge and expertise into the development of healthcare in Myanmar. Then, I discovered CGHP. Cambridge Global Health Partnerships has a longstanding partnership with Yangon, titled the Cambridge Yangon Trauma Intervention Partnership (CYTIP). The aim of which is to improve trauma care for patients, through sharing and learning between healthcare professionals in Cambridge and Yangon.

I contacted CGHP with a view to becoming an in-office volunteer. Now 10 months on, I remain a member of the CGHP team and continue to find my volunteer experience exciting, rewarding and valuable. The CGHP team is small, friendly and supportive and this has become my second home in the UK.

Everyone across the globe has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes me, as COVID-19 has had significant psychological and physical effects on my family. There are heightened concerns regarding my parents’ health. They reside in Yangon, Myanmar and are of an age where transmission and infection poses a significant threat. Living the other side of the world means that if something were to happen, I would be unable to visit or care for them. Conversely, my parents have been in a state of constant worry as the transmission rate in the UK skyrocketed. Short of praying for each other and continuing to meet online, there has been little we could do. This has taken its toll on our mental health and well being.

Bagan, Myanmar – Thet Win Aung

This period has also been a difficult time for my wife. She has a high workload and has quickly had to adapt to a new working environment. Every day as she returned from the hospital, she was filled with grief and sadness over the loss of patients, some of whom she had come to know and others who were strangers. She has been physically and emotionally drained. I have continued to support her throughout, but her experiences have also had an impact on me.

There is a tiny community of Myanmar doctors in King’s Lynn. This small diaspora group have been supporting each other through the pandemic. Being so far from home with few relatives has highlighted the importance of this diaspora network and friendships. We are all well connected, sending messages or calling to reassure each other that we are a community and not alone. We have also been shopping and cooking traditional food, placing meals at the doors of friends who have been infected with COVID-19. The gift of home comforts such as Myanmar food, has been the best psycho-social medicine. 

My days have been lonely, spending much time at home as my wife works in the hospital. However regular virtual meetings with family, friends and the CGHP team have kept me active. With CGHP, I have been able to share updates and news on COVID-19 in Myanmar.  

There have certainly been positives, as the pandemic has allowed me to indulge in my passion for photography. As an amateur photographer I have spent hours reviewing and editing images, even entering some online competitions! I am delighted to report that I have now received several awards for my work.  

As we look to the future, we simply don’t know where the pandemic will take us. However, my wife and I remain positive, embracing this new lifestyle and looking forward to the day we can once again visit our family and friends in Myanmar.

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