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Hay Mar San – Country Director, Mae Sot Thailand

Hay Mar San graduated with a degree in Liberal Studies from the Australian Catholic University program at Dagon University in Yangon, Burma. While studying in Yangon she worked as a community health worker for Save the Children. In 2005, she was employed as a Psychosocial Worker for Aide Medicale Internationale, after which, beginning in 2009, she was a trainer in parenting children for the International Rescue Committee.

From 2011 until 2016, she worked for Burma Border Projects as our Child and Youth Program Manager and from 2016 through 2018, Hay Mar San served as Country Manager for the Room to Grow Foundation.

Clearly, Hay Mar San’s passion lies in working with children and helping migrant youth to have a life that actualizes their potential to the fullest extent possible.

Zaw Htat – Headmaster, New Wave Learning Center

Zaw Htat is the headmaster at New Wave Migrant Learning Center in Mae Sot. Growing up in Burma, he benefitted from his family placing high value on education. This allowed him to graduate from the University of Western Yangon. After graduation, he migrated to Thailand for better employment opportunities. There, he became a teacher at a Migrant Learning Center. But he soon realized that migrant populations were underserved in the area of education. That is why he founded the New Wave Learning Center in 2008. Since then he has worked tirelessly to support Burmese migrant children in their quest for an education.

Interested in sponsoring Zaw Htat, helping him find the funds needed to continue his valuable work with NWS? Please visit our Sponsorship page to learn more.

Thae Mar Tun – Teacher, New Wave Learning Center

Thae Mar Tun grew up in Burma and finished two years of Univeristy. However, due to lack of employment opportunities, she migrated to Thailand with her husband in 2009. There, she began working as a neighborhood tutor and child mentor, going on to teach at two schools in Thailand. She has been teaching at the New Wave Learning Center since 2013.

Interested in sponsoring Thae Mae Tun, allowing her to continue her valuable work for migrant and refugee children in Mae Sot? Visit our Sponsorship page to learn more!

Soe Soe – Teacher, New Wave Learning Center

Soe Soe earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography and worked as a teacher in Myanmar for 17 years before immigrating to Thailand. She came with her husband, both hoping to find better work and to be able to support their two children. Today, Soe Soe is widowed, supporting her two children on her own.

She joined NWS in 2006 and has dedicated herself to the children at the center ever since.

Interested in sponsoring Soe Soe? Please visit our Sponsorship page to learn more.

San Dar Htew – Teacher, New Wave Learning Center

San Daw Htew received a Bachelor’s degree in geography, then migrated to Thailand in 2010 to look for better employment. She joined New Wave School in 2011. San Dar Htew is dedicated to her students and wants to see each of them succeed. She knows that some parents don’t value education and works to change that perception in her students and hopefully in her parents as well.

Interested in sponsoring San Dar Htew so she can continue her dream of providing education to Burmese migrant children? Please visit our Sponsorship page to learn more.

Michael Forhan – Executive Director

During the winter of 2018/19, Michael (whose bio is on our Board of Directors page) decided he needed a geographical cure, which he was told by many, would not work. Never one to carelessly heed the advice of others, Michael pulled up stakes in Worcester and moved his old bones to Bangkok, and has never looked back. Here, he does not need ever to be cold again—a priority for both Michael and John Cleese. (Google John’s recent appearance on Colbert.) Januaries in Massachusetts can be brutal. Here, also, he is close to the work BBP is doing in the north, but not so close as to be getting in the way. And in Bangkok, Michael is cultivating relationships with several of the prestigious international schools located here—schools that are eager
to see their often privileged students experience what it feels like to help perfect strangers in some very important ways.

Harrow International School, their students, faculty and even many of the Harrow parents have been supporting several schools in the Mae Sot area by sending much needed school supplies, school uniforms and other material support, and more importantly by the Thai students visiting and helping the young Burmese migrant students directly and personally. This is a classic win-win situation and Michael is determined to pair up more Bangkok international schools with individual migrant schools up north that can really use all the help they can get.

Our Board of Directors

Kathleen Allden, MD

Kathleen Allden, MD is a faculty member of the Department of Psychiatry at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. She is an expert in psychosocial and neuropsychiatric consequences of war, forced displacement and torture in a career bridging the fields of humanitarian assistance, clinical intervention, and human rights. She has worked in multiple refugee, post-conflict, and natural disaster settings in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and Haiti. Dr. Allden has over twenty five years of experience working with war affected Southeast Asian communities and since its inception in 1999, has helped developed Burma Border Projects, a program dedicated to the mental health of war affected Burmese populations. She has provided mental health services, training, technical assistance, and consultation for numerous non-governmental, governmental, health care, and academic organizations including the International Rescue Committee, International Committee for the Red Cross, Physicians for Human Rights, Partners in Health, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN High Commissioner for Human rights, and the US, Mexican, and Danish governments. She was Medical Director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma and directed two clinical programs for refugee, asylum seekers and survivors of torture in Boston, the Indochinese Psychiatry Clinic and the International Survivors Center. She was Program Director for the Peter C. Alderman Foundation and co-chaired Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s working group on mental health and psychosocial support. Dr. Allden is co-author of the UN protocol on medical legal documentation of torture and other cruel and degrading treatment-the Istanbul Protocol and has provided training and expert medical-legal testimony on this topic. During her career, Dr. Allden has written extensively on the psychological consequences of war and human rights abuse, and on developing effective psychosocial humanitarian responses. She has trained a broad range of health and mental health providers around the world including community health workers, indigenous medics, mental health professionals, physicians, and students.

Dr. Elizabeth Call

Dr. Elizabeth Call is a licensed clinical psychologist in independent practice in Cambridge, MA. She received her Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Denver and was a Clinical Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Call was a staff psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and clinical supervisor at Bessel van der Kolk’s Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute. She specializes in trauma and loss and integrates the scientific understanding of trauma and attachment with contemplative practices, EMDR and Internal Family Systems Theories. She practices the Vipassana and Tibetan traditions of meditation and has meditated for traditional three month silent retreats in Burma, India and the United States. She met Dr. Cynthia at the Mae Tao clinic on the Thai-Burma border, while searching for a way to give back. BBP was founded in response to Dr. Cynthia’s request to address trauma and loss and the psychosocial needs of the Burmese refugees. Dr. Call is also a photographer and has exhibited her photos of the Burmese refugees to raise awareness.

Christina Fink, PhD

Dr. Christina Fink is an anthropologist and the author of Living Silence in Burma: Surviving Under Military Rule (2009). She received her BA in International Relations from Stanford University and her MA and PhD in Social/Cultural Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley.  Christina has worked as a coordinator for the Open Society Institute’s Burma Project, a trainer and project consultant for an Internews oral history project, and a program evaluation consultant for the Canadian International Development Agency, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation. Between 1995 and 2010, she taught for the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute in Chiang Mai, Thailand and ran educational courses for members of Burmese civil society organizations. She is currently Professor of Practice of International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Michael Forhan, BBP Founder and Executive Director

Michael Forhan has spent much of his life working in the international arena. He successfully established two companies in Rangoon, Burma from 1994 to 1997. Prior to his time in Burma, Michael had built a career for himself in the international educational travel industry. In the summer of 1998, Michael traveled to the Thai-Burma border, where he met Dr. Cynthia Maung for the first time and received her permission to feature her in a documentary film. Meeting Dr. Cynthia, coupled with his growing awareness of the enormous needs of the Burmese refugees and migrant workers living along the Thai-Burma border, inspired Michael to enlist the support of several Boston-area trauma therapists to establish Burma Border Projects, Inc. as a tax-exempt, charitable organization in May 2000. At the time of assuming the role of Executive Director of BBP, Michael was Director of Special Projects in the Northeast and in Asia for NASA’s Center for Technology Commercialization in Westborough, MA. He presently serves as Director of Corporate Development for Passports, Inc., a Massachusetts-based international educational travel company.

Lucinda Lai MD

Lucinda Lai joined BBP and moved to Mae Sot in 2011 to coordinate the writing of Trauma and Recovery at War’s Border. She is a graduate of Harvard Medical School.

David Schmahmann

David Schmahmann was born in Durban, South Africa, and is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Cornell Law School. For many years he was a partner in a large Boston law firm, and he has also practiced law in Rangoon and published analyses of Burmese corporate and securities laws. He is the author of four novels, and lives with his daughters, Olivia and Annabel, in Weston, Massachusetts.

Meredith Walsh

Meredith Walsh, MPH, NP-C: Ms. Walsh has been working on the Thailand-Burma border since 2005 as an independent consultant. She has served as technical advisor for reproductive health at Mae Tao Clinic, Burma Medical Association, and the Adolescent Reproductive Health Network. Her current work involves conducting translational research and applying evidence-based outcomes to improve the quality of facilities-based and community-based health care for displaced people from Burma on the Thailand-Burma border. She is co-founder of a non-profit that assists refugees from Burma newly resettled in Worcester, MA. She received her master of public health with a focus on international health and development from Tulane University and advance practice nursing degree from the University of Massachusetts. She currently works in primary care as a family nurse practitioner at a community health center in MA.

Dr. YiDing Yu

Dr. YiDing Yu is a physician, designer, and entrepreneur. Born in northeast China and raised in Orlando, Florida, she received her degree in Economics magna cum laude from Harvard College and her M.D. from Duke University as an Anlyan Scholar. Dr. Yu is published in numerous academic journals and winner of the Diane Becker Prize in Clinical Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Yu is a passionate innovator in health care delivery and has received numerous prizes for her work in healthcare technology. Prior to medical school, YiDing spent a year on the Thai-Burma and China-Burma borders with Community Partners International (formerly Global Health Access Program), working on health information systems, local health programs, and human rights documentation in Eastern Burma with the Karen Department of Health and Welfare, Back Pack Health Worker Team, Mae Tao Clinic, Burma Medical Association, and the Kachin Department of Health.

Current Employment Opportunities

We have no job openings at this time.

Internship Opportunities

BBP occasionally accepts interns who are interested in education and global mental health in lesser developed countries. Please email Michael Forhan (michael@burma-projects.org) if interested. Thank you!

A Letter from the Founder

There is not “a” Founder; there are several.  One is “The Goddess of Serendipity” herself, who has been calling the shots in this enterprise since its inception. After living in Burma for three years in the mid-90’s, I brought a small film production crew (including my daughter, Betsy) over to Mae Sot in late 1998 in order to make a documentary about a then virtually-unknown doctor from Burma who had fled a wave of ethnic cleansing that had been taking place in 1988. She had set up a make-shift clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand to provide medical care to some of the thousands of mostly ethnic Karen who had fled the violence along with her. Her name is Dr. Cynthia Maung (www.maetaoclinic.org) and she is now the second-most-famous person from Burma in the world, and arguably the most well-liked.

For the film, Dr. Cynthia was being interviewed by a young trauma therapist from Boston, Dr. Elizabeth Call, who was there as a filmmaker and not a clinician.  One of the areas of the most concern for Dr. Cynthia was something she admitted she had no experience with and about which she had no idea what to do. This was the fact that owing to 10 years of brutal ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Burmese army (they do ethnic cleansing from muscle memory), there were many tens of thousands of displaced Burmese trying to eke out a living in Thailand.  A large proportion of these migrants were suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as were even the majority of her indigenous medics working at the clinic. The horrors that these people had experienced and witnessed defy description.

Libby Call explained (on camera) to Dr. Cynthia that she was in fact a Trauma Therapist and that she would go back to Boston and see if she could get some of her friends to come back over to help.  Serendipity—you go all the way to Thailand to make a film and instead you form an NGO. What if Libby hadn’t decided at the last minute to make that trip?  Right; serendipity.

Back in Boston, the first person Libby asked to help was a psychiatrist, Dr. Kathy Allden who had co-written the virtual bible in this field—The Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma.  Kathy has been a devoted participant and advisor in all of our psychosocial work ever since than and remains active to this day. What if Libby had not been close to Kathy? Serendipity—the pieces seemed to be falling (by themselves) into place.

But someone had to do the initial leg work; someone had to establish a recurring presence in Mae Sot to conduct the initial training of Dr. Cynthia’s medics in how, first, to identify the trauma, and then to begin to treat it in culturally appropriate ways. Libby reached out to two of her fellow Massachusetts-based trauma therapists, Drs Jack McCarthy and Peggy Bacon, who, between them in a five-year period, made over 20 trips to Mae Sot to firmly establish the trauma therapy training program at Dr. Cynthia’s clinic.  20 trips! What if Libby hadn’t been friends with Jack and Peggy? Right; serendipity.

And at the precise moment when Dr. Cynthia asked that we establish a full-time presence at her clinic and build a counseling center, another trauma therapist from Booklyn, Nancy Spencer Murakami, came along out of the blue looking for a place to volunteer for a year. By this time, I had come to expect such serendipitous occurrences. Nancy’s mother-in-law somehow found the funding to build the counseling center. By this time, I was not the least-bit surprised by any of this.

There are many more such serendipitous happenings in our history, but you get the picture. 

Libby Call, Kathy Allden, Jack McCarthy, Peggy Bacon and Nancy Spencer Murakami are the real founders of BBP. I just went along for the ride.

Michael Forhan

Bangkok, Thailand

January, 2020

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