Dr. Pyae Phyo Kyaw and Dr. Aung Soe Tun
Dr. Pyae Phyo Kyaw:
“My name is Dr. Pyae Phyo Kyaw. I’m 29 and hold a degree from the University of Medicine, Magway. Since I graduated, I have never been in service but worked at a private hospital where I met my boyfriend. We’ve been in a relationship for 4 years and I have been out and open about my sexual orientation since then. We have been struggling to stand on our own feet so that both of our parents would accept us. We have joined public protests since the beginning of the military coup. In May, we got connections with some ethnic controlled areas in Karenni State and have been working for an IDP Camp since then.”
Dr. Aung Soe Tun a.k.a Shwe Yoe:
“I’m Dr. Aung Soe Tun, a 29-year-old graduate from the University of Medicine, Mandalay. I graduated in 2015 but I only came out in 2017 after I first met with the love of my life, Dr. Pyae Phyo Kyaw. I joined public protests during the early days of the coup and supported civil servants who participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement. I arrived at an IDP Camp in Karenni State on 16th June 2021, have taken care of internally displaced civilians due to the Civil war, raised funds; and provided staple foods and medicines since then.”
Please tell us a bit about your joint work
Our “doctor/hospital-staff” lives ended when we started participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement in March 2021 after the military coup. With our strong will for democracy and justice, our professional lives also reached a turning point when we decided to come to Karenni state and help the villagers, refugees and internally displaced people of different ethnicities. When we first arrived in the Karenni forest area, there were about 2,500 IDPs in the camp, but the population is increasing and now there are altogether some 3,000 people spread out in small camps. We mainly provide staple foods to internally displaced citizens and run a clinic for them. Aside from the main camp, there are also mini camps in ethnic-controlled areas and therefore we make tele-consultations with healthcare workers in those camps, provide required drugs and medicines, and run a mobile clinic for them. We also provide rations and healthcare services in collaboration with Free Burma Rangers and some other organizations outside IDP camp areas. We also run a Covid-19 center and keep Covid19 positive patients from surrounding mini camps, look after them routinely and take care of the physiological needs of those patients who cannot afford the cost. In our Covid-19 Center, we also accept patients who are not from the camp areas. We are responsible for lending oxygen tanks and other apparatuses to clinics in other areas.
What one achievement you’ve accomplished that you’re most proud of
Among other efforts that we have put together over the past couple of months or even years, we are most proud of being able to touch lives and help the helpless. It’s not every day that you get to help 3,000 people. While camping in the middle of these remote forests, we work tirelessly to crowdfund for these people in need and provide mounted humanitarian assistance including healthcare, medicines, foods and basic nutrition and temporary shelters. The highlight is the “In-the-forest Covid-19 center” that we managed to establish and run. We could help test over 200 ethnic people and treat 120 positive cases with 6 severe cases with no deaths. It was a tremendous success for us, given the lack of medical equipment, ventilators and proper hospital settings.
What do you find most challenging about your work
We used to have food and a decent roof over our head, and we lived a typical urban life back in the city. Therefore, living in the forest is no easy task since it’s a completely opposite life style. Apart from having to defy weather, personal security and difficult living conditions; I find “raising funds” the most challenging. While the number of internally displaced people is increasing; and prices of rations and medicines are getting high amidst inflation, we will not be able to smoothly operate our camps without sufficient funds. Our bank accounts were frozen by the military to hamper and deter our pro-democracy and humanitarian work. We had to find a workaround so that we could receive people’s donations. And although we face other challenges in transportation and language barriers, we are both getting used to these now. As much as we are getting popular, the number of organizations that seek to help us; and those that ask for support from our camp gradually increases.
What do you do to recharge your battery
When we are feeling upset and exhausted from all this work, we would rather not look too far ahead. We only think about the present situation and reflect on things we’re capable of at the moment: where we would go to look after the patients, where we would supply rations. We look back at the achievements that we have made. Sometimes, we usually go to a cliff or hill near our camp, blend in with nature and take a rest peacefully without thinking about anything. Or other times, we would try to find a spot, somewhere high on top of a hill, where we could have internet reception; and we would go through our social media posts where we get to see people’s lovely responses and powerful encouragement – rooting for us. The thought of us being able to make an impact is naturally such a tonic for us.
What is your vulnerability and how do you overcome it
“My vulnerability is my partner of course. I was scared and afraid, not sure if he would have the same mind as me – willing to sacrifice everything and come along with me where uncertainty lies. But now, through ups and downs with him besides, he is my biggest strength.” said Dr. Pyae Phyo Kyaw. “Well, that makes us two”, laughed and replied Dr. Aung Soe Tun. “And with that love being conquered, we’ve outgrown other vulnerabilities, I guess. Because at the end of the day, it’s our own happiness and belief that counts.”
You have been nominated for the Young Achiever category. What was your reaction and please, tell us why
We never expected that we would be nominated for any type of award, let alone this category of an award. I am surprised and glad at the same time. I feel proud of myself because this is what I’ve always wanted to do and accomplish in my adulthood – to share and care for the people; to mean something to my community; to eradicate conservative and pessimistic perspectives about LGBTIQs (such as being gay is a sin or less of a human); and to normalize non-heterosexual relationships, as well as mainstream gender equality. Being gay or LGBTIQ does not make a person inferior; there is nothing to feel insecure about one’s own identity; LGBTIs also deserve to earn respect. Because we are not useless and we contribute to society. And being able to break LGBTIQ stereotypes and promote LGBTIQ visibilities through our works is a dream-come-true for me.
Despite the fact that the COVID-19 is still with us, what is a warm/hopeful message that you would like to share with the communities in the Asia Pacific
Both as a LGBT and a doctor, my message to all the brothers and sisters in Asia Pacific is to “stay strong and resilient” and “to be kind and supportive of each other”. We might live on different continents but our hearts are close and near during these unprecedented times. As we in Myanmar are fighting against not only the pandemic but also the military terrorism and human rights infringements, you may also have your own battle. But victory is near as long as we put our minds to it and help each other. And I guarantee that we will come back stronger than ever.