‘The Region Cannot Be Forgotten’

By Yen Saning 29 May 2014

RANGOON — Known for raising money on Facebook for philanthropic work in Burma, Khin Hnin Kyi Thar is being honored by the US-based Citizen of Burma Award Organization.

The 28-year-old founder of the Individual Philanthropic Network, based in Rangoon, focuses on assisting impoverished people in Myaing, a mountain range area between Sagaing and Magwe divisions, about 60 miles from Pakokku town.

The Citizen of Burma Award is given annually to an individual or community-based organization working for the good of Burmese society. The main award this year went to Burmese writer Than Myint Aung, but smaller prizes went to Khin Hnin Kyi Thar and two other community-based organizations. In this interview, Khin Hnin Kyi Thar explains why she wanted to help people in Myaing and how she raises funds to sustain her work.

Question: How did you start your network?

Answer: It was in September 2012 when I made a trip to the mountain range to write an article about people suffering from illnesses there. I found people living without schools, religious buildings, proper roads and medical assistance. I wrote an article about them, focusing on their lack of medicine and slippers as well as their poor personal hygiene, and donors sent money to me so I could purchase the needed items for them. The locals asked me to continue helping them. They said I was the first guest to come visit them. So I started this philanthropic network.

Q: How do you raise funds?

A: I have used Facebook to raise funds since starting the network—both my personal account and the network’s page. I talk with donors and new volunteers without knowing or seeing them. About 98 percent of donors from here and abroad donate via Facebook.

Q: Please tell us about the region where you work.

A: We focus on people living in the mountain range between Magwe and Sagaing divisions. People who were living in small tents on the mountain contacted us and asked us to come see their situation. We found seven groups of people, about 3,000 people in total, living on the mountain. They do not own farmland. Instead, they work on other people’s farms, and when there’s drought they lose business. These days, fewer land owners are hiring workers—they farm by themselves. So these people are trying to farm on the mountain and move there permanently.

Q: How do you help them?

A: We started with education. Before, the children were studying in tents and they had to hire teachers, even though the government says primary school is supposed to be free. When they could not pay, the teachers stopped teaching. So we built seven schools for them and negotiated with the Myaing local government to recognize these schools as state schools, to offer free education at the primary level. We also pay for kids to continue school in Grade 5, at schools at the base of the mountain. When we travel to the mountain range, we bring doctors to treat patients in both the summer and the winter. We make about eight medical trips per year.

Q: What are the needs in that area now?

A: Our main focus right now is water. Personal hygiene is quite bad at the mountain range. Due to the high temperature, they develop hypertension. They struggle to access drinking and cooking water. Children can’t study well because they need to look for water. Now we are digging wells at the bottom of the mountain and creating ponds. We also need to educate them about health. Children have malnutrition problems.

Q: Why did you start your network?

A: When we do our country’s development work, we can make a difference by ourselves. We don’t need to wait for the government. I wanted to start making a difference. I wanted to change what needs to be changed.

Q: How did you feel when you received a special prize as part of the Citizen of Burma Award? How will thisaffect your work?

A: I have more responsibility after receiving the prize. Myself, as Khin Hnin Kyi Thar, I will not change. But I will try to live up to the prize, I will do more development projects. Those abroad have recognized my development work, and more people in the country know about it. The most important thing is the region that our network focuses on. Even though our network can be forgotten, the region where we are based cannot be forgotten, especially by local authorities.