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Diary of a medic

Posted on 19th June 2020 by Philippa Wilford

Diary of a medic

Snapshots from my trip to Lailenpi with Health & Hope by Bill Hunter

Saturday — Monday

We arrived in Lailenpi after nearly three days of travel from Southampton! After our long-haul flight, we relaxed by a pool at the hotel preparing for the next section of our journey. Both Hannah, our host, and Dr Nick — a retired GP who’d travelled out with us to lead much of the planned training programme — warned that the 2-day drive from Bagan to Lailenpi would be gruelling. 

We thought we were prepared, having loaded up on snacks and water, books and games for entertainment. Our cameras were charged, and we were feeling positive.

It was about an hour into our journey, when Dr Nick said how much better these roads were than what lay ahead that I realised how wrong we’d been — I’d already banged my head three times! On the plus side, the scenery was mind-blowing and we got to see an elephant!

Once we made it to Lailenpi, we were greeted by the whole Health & Hope team holding a large banner. They gave us traditional Chin scarves, and we all sat down for an incredible meal. This was our first taste of the amazing hospitality we enjoyed throughout our stay. Already overwhelmed by the generosity shown to us, we collapsed into bed, very grateful to have arrived!


It was straight into an early start for our first day! After a fantastic breakfast we got stuck into teaching with Dr Nick as part of the Community Health Worker (CHW) training workshops. We went over their medicines list, and were incredibly impressed by the level of knowledge of the CHWs. 

After a full day, we sat down for dinner, then Dr Sasa took us up to see the new airstrip being built. The village choir came along and sang Hallelujah while the sun set around us.  Afterwards, Dr Sasa took us to his Dad’s house for tea. The variety to the day’s event felt intense, but absolutely wonderful.


This was the first day I had the chance to go to the Midwife-run workshops where they were teaching on Breech Birth and Shoulder Dystocia. It was genuinely better than any teaching I’ve had in the UK on either of the subjects, even after five years of medical school and an eight-week placement on Obstetrics, which had all been good! I came away feeling like I’ve never been more prepared to deliver a baby. 

This evening I had one of the most crazy experiences of my life! There was a 91 year old preacher arriving from India for a church conference that also happened to be running in Lailenpi. This preacher was the last Mara man to have been baptised by the original missionary who came over from England to Myanmar. Dr Sasa thought it would be a respectful symbolic gesture to have us carry him through the town to the church! It was amazing to take part in such an incredible display of faith and thankfulness, and was like nothing I’d ever experienced in the UK.

Sunday (sometimes known as a day of rest!)

At the end of a very full week, we were told we’d finally get some time to relax, and even have a lie in. None of that happened but I couldn’t have been happier.

Dr Saki kindly gave me a Long Gee to wear after he caught me admiring one earlier in the week so I got to go to Church in traditional clothing. We danced with some of the local people and sang ‘Sing Hosannah,’ which ended up getting thousands of views on Facebook!

After lunch, we all sat on the balcony and sang hymns and songs while Dr Saki played the guitar. It was one of the most peaceful and enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had, and I felt privileged to share in this time together.

Some of the HHM staff took us on a walk through the town afterwards. We ended up stopping at a stranger’s house for bananas, seeing a local seamstress at work, and a hairdresser’s. It was great to see the community; everyone was so kind and generous. One of the HHM staff members told us if he wanted to, he could walk the seven days to the capital city, staying with strangers who would happily host him even if they didn’t speak his language. It was amazing to witness these expressions of Christian kindness at their most pure.

On the way back, we stopped for coffee at the Head Preacher’s house, and at a local school where students were preparing for exams. We were able to pray for the children and talk to them about our own experiences of exams and how to prepare for them.

We got back to our rooms well after dark, absolutely exhausted from this ‘day off’ but very happy!


It was another very full day in the clinic seeing patients. 

Earlier in the week, I’d seen a patient who had some mental health issues that sounded very like PTSD from a terrible experience she’d been through. Unfortunately, it seemed little could be done as facilities for mental health care don’t exist. 

I happened to mentioned this over dinner, and how sad it was that complex needs such as this patient’s are difficult to support. Afterwards, Dr Saki pulled me aside and asked who I’d been talking about. I found it hard to give many details, but he persisted, asking which nurse had been with me. He went straight away to track her down and follow up with the patient. 

There were many small moments like this, which had I not been directly involved, I simply wouldn’t have noticed. Clearly there was more care that could be offered to this patient than I realised. It was another reminder of the kindness of everyone within this tight-knit community.

At that dinner, we were also joined by members of the army who treated us to a song — yet another memorable moment!


Sadly this was our last day in Lailenpi. I spent it in the clinic. Later, we got to take part in a stone laying ceremony for the new student accommodation. Then it was time to say goodbye to everyone who had been so kind to us.


We left early this morning. The drive back was shorter than the way up as it was downhill all the way!  We were very sorry that the outbreak of Covid-19 meant we needed to make emergency plans to return home rather than continuing our time in Myanmar. All in all, it was an incredible experience. I feel so privileged to have taken part.

Thank you to everyone at Health & Hope.

A desert trek for Health & Hope

Posted on 18th June 2020 by Philippa Wilford

A desert trek for Health & Hope

Jean O’Hara is setting off for the trek of a lifetime, and raising money for Health & Hope in the process.

We caught up with Jean during Lockdown to find out how her training is going.


Hi Jean! You are planning on trekking across the Jordan desert in October. What on earth inspired you to take up such a challenge?

I turn 60 this year, and decided I needed to mark it by setting a goal. I have raised money by taking part in 10-25km sponsored walks in England before, but I wanted to do something really big. So, on New Year’s Day, my friend Jill and I signed up for five days of trekking across the Jordan desert, from the Dead Sea to reach Petra.

I have never been to this part of the world before, and the more I read about it, the more exciting - and daunting - it sounded. The terrain is varied and difficult. It is hot during the day, and gets very cold at night. It is a supported trek, but I am under no illusions that it will test our strength and stamina.


Has Lockdown affected your preparation?

Yes, it has certainly made things harder! The company we are going with gave a useful training programme, but it was hard to stick to because initially we were only allowed to exercise locally for a limited time each day. Also, the trip itself felt uncertain, and so motivation to keep on training became difficult for a while.

However, with Lockdown easing, and being able to go further afield and to meet up and train with my friend Jill means we’re back on track, motivated and feeling hopeful that it will go ahead.


What made you choose Health & Hope as your charity to support?

My trip is fully self-funded, but I thought it was a good opportunity to raise some money for a worthwhile cause. 

I’ve raised money for large charities before. This time I wanted to support an organisation where I could see my money make a specific difference. 

My dad was Burmese, born and raised in Rangoon, so this part of the world appealed to me. Both my parents have known the struggle of poverty and hardship and the value of education. Seeing the way Health & Hope seeks to support local communities in these particular areas is exactly the type of work I want to enable. 

I trained in medicine and have spent my career as a psychiatrist, working with people who live with severe mental health problems. I chose to further specialize in the mental health of people with learning disabilities. They often experience adversity, trauma, stigma and discrimination and struggle to have their needs met and their voices heard. Projects such as Education for All are life-changing, and so Health & Hope's targeted fundraising for initiatives such as these is fantastic. As a fundraiser, I can see the difference my support will make.

Also, I read the story of Dr Sasa — what an inspirational man! He has dedicated his work to giving back to his community.


Thank you for your time, we will look forward to hearing how you get on!

If you would like to support Health & Hope through taking part in a fundraising challenge, and would like ideas and support, then do get in touch with our Partnerships Manager, Philippa by emailing

Medical elective student reflections on trip to Lailenpi

Posted on 19th April 2020 by Chris Jones

Medical elective student reflections on trip to Lailenpi

My visit to Lailenpi was one of the most revitalising experiences that has ever happened to me. We were shown so much love; it was incredibly humbling. One of the lessons I would pass on to anyone who visits would be: always pack a jumper! If you think you’re leaving your accommodation for just one hour, it could very well turn out to be for seven, and the evenings get very cold! 

Our time was incredibly full, even though it was sadly shorter than anticipated due to having to leave early because of the Covid-19 outbreak. We are so grateful to all the people who made us welcome, and to the incredible Health and Hope team who taught us so much during our time working with them. There are many experiences that I could share, but I thought I would highlight the more ‘flexible’ attitude to timings that I learned to embrace, which was illustrated on one of our days travelling out to a remote village in order to run training and a health clinic.

The village was a two hour drive from Lailenpi, and we went with Midwifery Trainers, Maaike and Frances, who had come from the UK to run workshops. Two local nurses came with us to help and act as interpreters.

We arrived around mid-morning and, as with everywhere, were made to feel incredibly welcome. We were offered some lovely local foods including eggs, bananas and an amazing tomato salad! 

We’d come mainly to see how the Traditional Birth Attendants were getting on. Many of them had been trained by local people, and so this was a chance for Maaike and Frances to assess how well this ‘passing-on’ of training is working.

We also ran clinics for women in the village who were either pregnant or hoping to become pregnant, and for mothers to bring ill children.

Whilst we saw a range of different problems within the clinic, there were three main issues for children that kept recurring: diarrhoea, fever and children who weren’t eating properly. Many of these issues were easy to solve and required nothing more than health education. Often local villagers are hoping for medication, as this is seen as the only effective treatment; it is an effort to encourage people that much simpler solutions are often all that is needed.

For example, guided by Frances’ wisdom, we discovered that nearly all of the children with diarrhoea didn’t wash their hands. We were able to offer advice around good hand hygiene as well as discussing how to prepare a simple oral rehydration solution and advocating the benefits of continued breast feeding, if age appropriate and possible. 

A surprise came for me when  treating a five-year old child who wasn’t sleeping properly. It turned out he was using a mobile phone at bedtime. I’d never imagined that too much screen time would be an issue in rural Myanmar! 

After we had treated all the children, there were some adults desperate to be seen, and so naturally we agreed to do so. Then, whilst we were finally packing away, one more lady came and begged us to see her as “just one last person.” 

I’m so glad that we agreed. It saddens me that that this poor lady had been suffering with a urinary infection for over a year without being able to access help. Despite our limited resources due to the mobile nature of the clinic, we were able to prescribe her a course of antibiotics, and ‘sign post’ her to the Community Health Worker for follow-up care.

At the end of this long clinic, we were treated to another feast. Before we set off for home, we were invited to the local TBA trainer’s house to meet her children. Here again, we were made more than welcome — the hospitality really is incredible. This time together was such a treat. We were shown around the village, and I felt better able to understand village life. 

I was struck by just how far some of the TBAs have to travel to attend births, often on foot. Their commitment to their voluntary roles is humbling. 

My experience with Health and Hope left me realising that there is a vast amount that can be done to improve the health of communities without medication. Whilst posters and public health sessions have already been provided, many communities have yet to fully embrace the significance of nutrition and hygiene for daily health and well-being. 

People were often visibly disappointed when we dispensed health advice, rather than a course of medication for them or their children. I hope that Health and Hope continue to develop this area of training for the Community Health Workers and TBAs as bringing about this change in mindset takes time.

I also hope that I can return to Lailenpi one day — maybe in a few years’ time when I have been working as a qualified doctor for a while. I would like to go back with more knowledge and skills to pass on. It would be wonderful to see the progress of the work. I will never forget the commitment of the people I have met. They are incredibly knowledgeable, and are clearly having an amazing impact. They are saving lives.

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