Health and Hope is the accomplishment of a resolute, prayerful community in Chin State, Myanmar.
The founder of Health and Hope, Dr SaSa, was born in a remote village called Lailenpi in western Chin State. His grandmother gave him the name SaSa which means ‘higher and higher’. Life for villagers in the region was difficult, with little or no healthcare facilities, scant education opportunities and chronic food shortages.
As a boy, Sasa saw his parents taken for forced labour, and girls in his village raped. He witnessed the death of friends from preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea, and saw many women and babies die during childbirth. He was deeply moved and challenged by all he experienced and dreamed of becoming a doctor.
Sasa walked for many days to reach high school in Yangon, the first child from his village ever to attend. On his return, his community sold their livestock in order to send him to college in India and later send him abroad to study medicine. And, despite having to learn three new languages to gain this education, Sasa graduated at the top of his class.
In 2007, with one year remaining of his medical studies, the bamboo species, melocanna baccifera, blossomed in Chin State. This event, known locally as the ’Mautam’, occurs only once every 40-50 years. The fruit produced from the blossoming bamboo attracted hordes of rats, who quickly multiplied in number. After devouring the bamboo fruit, the rats turned to the villagers' crops, destroying rice and corn and causing a famine that lasted for 5 years. Though still a medical student, Sasa mounted a response to the famine, treating over 3,500 patients through a makeshift clinic in Chapi, on the India/Myanmar border. Through his effective lobbying and friends in the UK, funds were also secured for cross-border food aid, which reached over 120,000 people.
Sasa completed his medical studies in 2008 and returned to Chapi to continue famine relief efforts. Many villagers were sick and there was no hospital or health service in the region. Sasa knew that food aid, alongside simple primary healthcare measures, such as access to clean water, better nutrition and basic health interventions, could have a significant impact on people’s health and wellbeing. It was out of this, that Health and Hope was formed.
Through Dr Sasa’s initiative, hundreds of villagers were brought together to build a training centre to launch the region’s first primary healthcare service. One hundred and fifty villages sent two people each – one male and one female - to be trained as Community Health Workers at the newly-built facility.
By 2015, 834 health workers from 551 villages had graduated from our six-month training course. Health and Hope also now runs an educational scholarship programme to support the next generation of leaders in Chin State, and has expanded its health work to support the training of Traditional Birth Attendants in addition to supporting local villagers to build Community Health and Education Centres. Health and Hope also continues to respond to the critical issues of food insecurity and malnutrition across the region.