In 1962 a faction leader named U Nu led a military coup and inaugurated the “Burmese Way to Socialism,” a doctrine that would shape Burma’s future economy and political parties. The doctrine continued for over 25 years, but slowly harmed the lower class by devaluing the currency. As people lost their savings, large-scale riots took place; in 1988, thousands of people died in one anti-government riot.
Tensions between the state and people grew until a breaking point in 1989 when a military organization declared martial law and took power. The military leadership renamed the country Myanmar, placed political threats under house arrest, and arrested thousands of civilians. This is the turmoil that Chan Myae Thu grew up in.
Despite the unrest, Chan and her family held high expectations for Chan’s future and Chan studied and became a doctor in her home country. In Burma, the government is responsible for healthcare; patients receive free treatment at universal clinics or hospitals. However, high doctor-to-patient ratios means that patients must wait a long time for doctor visits and procedures. Burmese doctors can practice in a general private practice or work for the government – Chan studied as a general practitioner with the hope of providing healthcare for women through a non-governmental organization.
Because of the turmoil in Burma, Chan hoped to come to America to practice medicine. Her family fully supported her, sending her to the United States and changing her life forever.
Chan came to Buffalo as an immigrant, however the continued unrest in Burma led her to seek asylum in the United States. Having come to Buffalo with no knowledge of American life – Chan knew nothing about stores, housing, and common systems that would provide her with a quality life – she was on her own.
While Chan was at university, she received word from her family that they had moved to a refugee camp in Thailand. The camp offered a limited amount of space, food, water, and medicine. Chan’s mother, who had fallen ill on a Friday, passed away on Sunday because the camp was unable to send a vehicle for her to seek proper medical care. Chan’s heartbreak as well as the other difficulties that came with being a newcomer to America, forced her to stop her studies, and instead take a job with the same people who helped her as an asylum seeker in Buffalo.
For Chan, the biggest difference between the privatized American and socialized Burman systems pertain to the distribution of prescription drugs. In Burma, general practitioners and pharmacies both prescribe medications. They work together, in theory, to supply every necessary drug to patients who need them.
General practitioners prescribe medications based on the patient’s illness while pharmacies distribute medication based on the symptoms they treat. However, this system leads patients to become at risk for antibiotic-resistant diseases that result from general practitioners and pharmacies overprescribing and distributing medications unnecessarily, and patients sharing medications.
Having lived through the political turmoil in Burma and suffering hardship and loss of family far away, Chan has worked very hard to make Buffalo a good home for her and her family. Chan now lives happily as a wife and mother of two, working at a community health center, balancing her work with her children's violin lessons and karate practices, making sure to make time for family vacations (she is trying to visit all 50 states). She loves taking her family to events in Buffalo such as the Burmese Water Festival, as well as those at a nearby monastery, so her kids can be raised as she was. It is because of Chan’s efforts and the many people and organizations working together that she has felt the welcome of the City of Good Neighbors.