Training health workers & earth rights advocates on the Thai-Burma border

The second year of the Health and EarthRights Training (HEART) program has commenced! Building on the successful inaugural program in 2011, the 2012 program continues the partnership between the Mae Tao Clinic and EarthRights International to build the knowledge and skills of the next set of emerging community workers, leaders and activists promoting and protecting health and earth rights inside Burma and along the Thai-Burma border.

The HEART program was born out of an idea developed between the two primary partners, the award-winning Dr Cynthia Maung, Director of the Mae Tao Clinic, and Ka Hsaw Wa, ERI’s Executive Director and draws upon the vision and strengths of the two organizations. As such, the program is based upon a recognition of the close relationship between earth rights abuses and the health and well-being of communities.

The HEART Program for 2012 commenced officially on Monday, April 23rd, with an opening ceremony at the school campus in Mae Sot, Thailand. The event officially welcomed the 17 new participants in the 2012 program, with speeches by Dr Cynthia Maung, Chana Maung (ERI’s Asia Office Director), and representatives of local community-based organizations including the BackPack Health Workers, HEART 2011 and EarthRights Schools alumni, and ERI’s Burma Alumni Program. The ceremony was attended by ERI and MTC staff, representatives of local organizations, alumni, volunteers, guests and supporters of the program, who turned out in force to demonstrate their appreciation for the program and deliver their best wishes in support of the new batch of students.

 The 2011 HEART program opening ceremonyThe 2011 HEART program opening ceremony

The HEART Class for 2012 consists of 17 young women and men from diverse ethnic backgrounds, including Karen, Karenni, Shan, Pa-Oh, Mon, Kachin and others. They hail from the border areas, refugee communities and deep inside Burma. The trainees are medical workers, community workers, activists and researchers and have experience working with organizations such as the Mae Tao Clinic, BackPack Health Workers and local women’s and community organizations.

The seven month program aims to equip participants with knowledge of the relationship between health, human rights and the environment, and the skills to put this knowledge into practice in protecting and promoting earth rights and health in their communities. This is achieved through four key program components:

  • Core knowledge of the social, political and legal context for earth rights and health, through study of environment, human rights, international law and political systems;
  • Specific case studies and practical examples of earth rights and health issues relevant to student communities, in areas including oil and gas, dams, mining, and agriculture;
  • Practical skills to enable students to apply their knowledge after they graduate, including training in reporting, advocacy, project planning and fundraising;
  • A fieldwork practicum in which students return to their communities to conduct research into an earth rights and health issue affecting local people and develop a report to present upon their findings.

ERI congratulates the new program participants and wishes them the very best for the coming year!

Our new HEART class share some first impressions from the program:

‘So far I have learnt self confidence. I have learnt about what a water crisis is and about the planet and where we have come from. There are many similar problems between different countries. My favourite thing this week has been learning about the indigenous people in Australia and issues caused by deforestation and water.’

‘This school in connected to my main aim of going back to Burma and helping people in my community. In our area there has been a lot of deforestation and I want to educate people about the problems of doing this. There is low food security and soil depletion. I want to go back to my community and teach them everything I have learnt in this course.’

‘I believe the issues we are learning here are the most important today in Burma: the environmental irregularities and diseases. People have a very short life span and people die early. There is a lot of poverty and people can’t afford to access treatment. There is also lots of corruption.’

‘It is essential for many people living around the world to know about everything that is being taught here in the school, on health, human rights and environment. It’s also important for people to know about community building and educating each other. I think it’s so important that we can participate together.’