BU Today

In the World

BU in the World: Mission to Burma

A five-part series on student and faculty work around the globe

Click on the slide show above to hear Lotus McDougal (SPH’07) talk about her work in the refugee camps on the Thailand-Burma border.

The heart of the BU community is right here in Boston, but the University’s influence reaches around the globe. In addition to the 1,500 students who study abroad each year, students and professors work in foreign lands doing research, exploring, preserving cultures, and helping others. BU is out and about, and the world is its classroom.

In this series, BU Today looks at five stories from the past year about some of the academic and humanitarian pursuits of BU students and faculty around the globe. Click here to read yesterday’s story, “Saving Bolivia’s Street Children.” Check back tomorrow for “Students Serve the City, Then the World.”

Mission to Burma
Giving refugees health and hope

By Taylor McNeil and Paul Heerlein

The Karen people of eastern Burma have been waging a decades-long struggle for independence from the military rulers of their country, and thousands have fled to refugee camps on the Thailand border. Conditions are crowded — refugees must stay within the confines of the camps — but they try to maintain their social and cultural traditions.

As a practicum for her M.P.H. in international health at the School of Public Health, from May to November 2006 Lotus McDougal (SPH’07) helped run community health education programs in two of those refugee camps. She assisted in training a staff of 90 camp residents, who were responsible for disease control and health education for 35,000 refugees. The work also involved monitoring and evaluating the programs, run by the American Refugee Committee in Thailand, to make sure they were effective. “I found the people I was working with really impressive,” McDougal says.

While some of the Karen refugees want to be resettled abroad, others hope they will be able to return to Burma, despite recent gains by the Burmese military, which renamed the country Myanmar in 1989. (The Karen people, and many others, still refer to it as Burma.)

On her last day, McDougal, dressed in Karen clothing, was given a farewell party. Her smiling staff walked with her to the gate of the camp, expressing their affection. The people in the refugee camps, she says, “are among the most welcoming, intelligent, positive, and open-minded that I have met.”

Taylor McNeil can be reached at tmcneil@bu.edu. Paul Heerlein can be reached at heerlein@bu.edu.

“Mission to Burma” originally appeared on
BU Today on February 1, 2007.