Story written by Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF)
Naw Phyu Win is a one year-old girl who was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. She lives with her mother, father, older brother (17) and two older sisters (14 and 8). She has another brother (20) who works in Bangkok at ice factory and often sends back money to the family in the remote village of Khaw Poe Ple in Thaton, Mon State. Naw Phyu Win’s parents were born and raised in the same village where they are rice farmers. They practice swidden agriculture and shift their small cultivation plots every year while living in the same place. Her family does not generate an income as the rice they harvest is just enough for them to eat, not to sell. They raise chickens, and if they need more food, her older siblings collect vegetables in the forest. When her family needs money to buy salt for cooking and milk powder for her to eat, her siblings work as day laborers for 2-3 days per month, and earn 2500 kyat (approximately 2 USD) per day. Her mother, Daw Tah Paw Mu, wanted to send all of her children to school, but her kids had to help support the family and could only afford to send her 8 year-old daughter so far. She hopes that Naw Phyu Win will receive an education.
She was born with the assistance of a Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) in her home and had a normal delivery. Each time her mother took her to the government-sponsored vaccination clinics in Burma, she was denied immunizations once the health providers looked at her baby’s cleft lip and cleft palate. This incident occurred on four occasions, each time she was rejected with a different excuse. She never has this issue with any of her other five children. Daw Tah Paw Mu had never seen or heard of a cleft lip prior to her daughter and was hesitant at first to raise her child. There were two instances of villagers offering to take Naw Phyu Win as their own daughter, and to never return her. When she saw her daughter cry and struggle to eat, Daw Tah Paw Mu started to pity her and then really started to love her.
Looking after young Naw Phyu Win has been difficult for the family but they all love her. Naw Phyu Win cries often and is unable to breastfeed. It is difficult for her to eat and drink and lots of saliva comes out of her mouth. Each month, her family spends at least 3,200 kyat (approximately 3 USD) on milk powder formula. Her siblings have had to work more to support her. When they do not have the money for the powder, they mix sugar and hot water as a substitute. Naw Phyu Win’s oldest brother sends some money from Bangkok despite being in debt from leaving Burma. Her mother said, “If my son did not send money, my baby would not be alive. Because we share the same blood, we should help each other out.”
Her mother never sought out treatment in Burma as she has never visited a hospital before and knew it was too expensive. She asked other villagers what to do and a former Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF) patient, Myint Myint Khine, introduced her to BCMF. Following a two days journey, delayed due to inclement weather and road closures, Naw Phyu Win arrived at BCMF. Her mother said she noticed improved transportation and communication in Burma recently. Her village now has two telephones allowing her to contact her son in Bangkok to send money. Her mother is worried that Naw Phyu Win will be shy when socializing with friends if she does not have surgery to repair her cleft lip and palate. Naw Phyu Win’s mother is hoping for a successful surgery and a quick recovery so they can save money and send her to school. She stated, “I wish my daughter receives a good education to become a medic or teacher. One day, she will help out her community and repay her older brother for his sacrifices.”
BCMF arranged the trip for Naw Phyu Win and some other cleft and palate patients to receive surgery with the help of Operation Smile Thailand’s medical mission. They went to Mae Hong Son on the 8th of February 2016 and received surgery a few days later. The trip is too long for them but Naw Phyu Win’s mother says she is grateful for the surgery for her daughter. She is extremely happy that her daughter received surgery and now she looks like a normal child like other children.
Naw Phyn Win's mother said, "I love my daughter so much, I cannot give her up for any amount of money, jewelry or even an elephant!" (Elephants are symbols of extreme wealth). She added, “Thank you so much to the donors, BCMF staffs and everyone who help my daughter through the treatment. Without your help, I cannot afford for the cost of surgery for my daughter. I cannot forget your help for me and my daughter for the rest of my life.”