Myanmar is a Southeast Asian nation of more than 100 ethnic groups, bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. Yangon, the country’s largest city, is home to bustling markets, numerous parks and lakes, and the towering gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, which contains Buddhist relics and dates to the 6th century.
On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma.
In 1989, the country’s official full name is called the “Republic of the Union of Myanmar”.
Nay Pyi Taw was built in the central basin of Myanmar in the early 21st century to serve as the country’s new administrative centre. In 2004 construction of Nay Pyi Taw began on an isolated site near the city of Pyinmana, some 200 miles (320 km) north of the then capital city of Yangon.
The Ayeyawady River
The Irrawaddy River or Ayeyawady River, also spelt Ayeyarwaddy is a river that flows from north to south through Myanmar. It is the country’s largest river and most important commercial waterway. Originating from the confluence of the N’mai Kha (May Kha) and Mali Kha rivers, it flows relatively straight North-South before emptying through the Irrawaddy Delta into the Andaman Sea. Its drainage basin of about 255,081 square kilometers (98,487 sq miles) covers a large part of Myanmar. After Rudyard Kipling’s poem, it is sometimes referred to as ‘The Road to Mandalay’.
As early as the sixth century the river was used for trade and transport. Having developed an extensive network of irrigation canals, the river became important to the British Empire after it had colonized Myanmar. The river is still as vital today, as a considerable amount of some export goods and traffic moves by river. Rice is produced in the Irrawaddy Delta, irrigated by water from the river.
Healthcare in Rural Areas in the past
According to past records, Myanmar is one of 57 countries worldwide facing a critical shortage of medical staff, defined as fewer than 23 health workers per 10,000 people. In rural Myanmar 70 percent of the country’s 51 (2014 census) million people live mostly in villages. They lack basic healthcare. Patients travel hours – in some hilly regions nearly an entire day – to reach hospitals or clinics located only in towns.
Nationwide, there are 1,504 rural health centers covering more than 65,000 villages, according to a 2010 Health Ministry report.
“Due to remoteness between their villages and towns, most patients come to the hospital only when they cannot stand their deteriorating health conditions. While some arrive at the hospital in time, some arrive too late,” said a local doctor working in the country’s third-largest city, Mandalay, who asked not to be named.
Remote villages across the country
Sagaing Township is a township in Sagaing District in the Sagaing Region (formerly Division) of Myanmar. The principal town is Sagaing.
Ye Kharr lake between Sagaing Hill and Min Wun Hill produced natural spirulina in the past as in Twintaung of Budalin Township and Twinma and Taung Pauk of Kani Township.
The Wachet Village and many similar surrounding small villages are situated in the remote northeast area of Sagaing in the Sagaing Hills on the west bank of Ayeyawaddy. The villages are only accessible from Sagaing by passenger boats manually moved by oars only up to point called “Hlay Seik” literally “boat terminal”. Then villagers had to walk a long way by foot about four miles to reach Wachet Village and the surrounding villages.
It was an astonishing and agonizing ordeal to send a patient from the surrounding villages to Sagaing Hospital or to Mandalay Hospital.
Most of the critical and terminally ill patients in these villages remained at home suffering all the agonies and pains rather than travelling muddy, slippery and bumpy village pathways to the “boat terminal” and then riding on the shaking boat on the sprawling Ayeyawaddy River to reach Sagaing.
Instead they were prepared to die, having no better choice.
No doctor. No clinic. No dispensary.
These villages remained in darkness for many decades.
Kyaswa Sayadaw Bhaddanta Dr. Lakkhana
Bhaddanta Dr. Lakkhana was born in 1935 in Kadaw Village, Myingyan Township, Mandalay Region (formerly Division) of Upper Myanmar to U Thar Hte and Daw Phwa Saw.
Sayadaw later became the founder of the existing Wachet Jivitadana Sangha Hospital in Sagaing Hills.
Wind of Change
There were two very old banyan trees standing tall side by side on the soft muddy earth near the same space where the Wachet Hospital is to be established in a few years later. Under the two banyan trees there were two old dilapidated communal rest houses called “Cardu Dita” for the travelers to rest for a while or sleep overnight, mostly used by local fishermen.
At sunset, local people in the villages began their dinner. A typical day’s catch for a fisherman is enough for a meal, while some lucky fishermen may pull in one of the river’s giant catfish. Lifestyles are simple in Myanmar. Most of the fishermen from the surrounding villages spent their time on the communal rest houses.
It was a windy evening of 29 March 1980.
A strong storm with might and anger suddenly rolled across the Ayeyawaddy River and hit the west bank. Many trees including the two banyan trees collapsed and the communal rest houses blown away into thin air. The big trees near the areas were also fallen down and some uprooted.
Nearly all the small houses and dwellings were also collapsed. Some good houses with corrugated tin roof were also damaged to certain extent.
The strong storm had left the community with misery.
Existing Standard Hospital
The existing four storey hospital stands out from north to south 327 feet in length and 40 feet in breadth. It took more than 25 long years to develop to come up to that status. It started with a small structure of dispensary with 32 feet in length and 28 feet in breadth with only one storey building.
The original owner of the two communal rest houses was Tharyawaddy Sayadaw also known as Ashin Arseinda Maha Thero in Sagaing Hills. Immediately after the storm that devastated the area, the senior monk requested and assigned Kyaswa Sayadaw Dr. Lakkhana to rebuild the two communal rest houses for the community.
Kyaswa Sayadaw accepted the request to rebuild the communal rest houses in their original site.
Coincidentally, Retired Divisional Commissioner U Kyi arrived at Kyaswa Religious Resort in Sagaing Hills. At that time, U Kyi was the Chairman of the Myanmar Red Cross Association.
While taking up discussion on various religious matters, Kyaswa Sayadaw was of the view that the vacant space left by communal rest houses should be utilized as small dispensary or basic health care unit that may benefit the rural community.
In response, the Retired Divisional Commissioner U Kyi agreed to build a small structure for the purpose of health clinic. The Myanmar Red Cross Association Chairman was of the view that the opening of a health care center was in line with the government policy for rural development. He promised to assist as much as possible in the realization of the small health care unit.
When all the positive status of building a health care unit was in sight, Dr. Lakkhana was happy and he never wastes a single day. Holding the opportunity, he went straight to Tharyawaddy Sayadaw and explained what he had discussed with U Kyi on the idea of building a basic health care unit.
With much delight, Tharyawaddy Sayadaw approved the idea of building basic health care unit in place of previous communal rest houses. With a view to enable Sayadaw Dr. Lakkhana to carry out the health project with independent view and activity, the owner Sayadaw transferred the “Land Grant Order” into the hands of Dr. Lakkhana.
That was the opening page of chronicle to realize “From Small Hut to Standard Hospital”.
In making the project to be formal, Dr. Lakkhana invited some days ahead in advance to Thayawaddy Sayardaw, Thit Wynn Sayadaw, Min Kyaung Sayadaw, Mya Taung Sayadaw and other neighboring Sayadaws in the area and formally supplicated the proposed plan for the health dispensary unit.
On 17 April 1980, a formal meeting was held attended by leading Sayadaws, town elders and village community members. In that formal meeting, it was decided by all attendees to establish a health dispensary.
On that same day, various committees namely Owada-Directive Sayadaws Committee, Patron Sayadaw Committee, Members of Sangha Executive Committee and Lay Persons Supervisory Committee were formed.
As everyone would like to see the establishment of a dispensary at the earliest, a fund raising task was organized.
As of 13 May 1980, the leading Sayadaws namely Kyaswa Sayadaw, Hanthargiri Sayadaw, Yadana Man Aung Sayadaw, and Pali Cari Sayadaw contributed kyats 10,000 as initial budget.
With some cash in hands, the auspicious ground breaking ceremony for dispensary was held on 15 June 1980. In the following days, the members of Sanghas and the lay disciples including the village community participated in cash and kind and also in labor to start rolling of the building of communal dispensary.
The leading role was taken up by Sayadaw Dr. Lakkhana.
It took three long years, to complete a small normal concrete building of 32 feet by 28 feet in July 1984. As the dispensary building is just by the side of the famous Ayeyawaddy River, the upper floor was supported by long foundation pillars to keep away the flood water rising up during the peak season of high tides.
For pragmatic approach, the homely entrance was being divided into two sections, one for the clinical examination of the patient, and the other as dispensary and drug store. The inner side of the building with a space of 16 by 32 feet was arranged as a wide hall and lined up five beds for the accommodation of the patients.
On 16 September 1984, leading members Sayadaws led by Dr. Lakkhana went to Sagaing Township. There was a formal meeting including Township Medical Officer and Panel of Chairmen of Township Council. They discussed the formal opening of dispensary. The discussion was all affirmative and all the agendas were agreed.
With the participation of all concerned, the highly expected signpost bearing “Wachet Jivitadana Sangha Hospital” was unveiled at the dispensary / hospital building on 20 October 1984.
Despite being a small building, the hospital was finally established at Wachet Village for the benefit of rural community in the area.
On the same auspicious day of 20 October 1984, a small but strong five-member team comprising one doctor with MBBS degree, one certified trained nurse, one capable dispensary clerk, one trained hospital cleaner and one hospital security were appointed.
The hospital ran smoothly on the very opening day.
The out-patients started to roll in the hospital in seeking basic medical treatment. The patients included members of Sanghas, nuns, lay persons, poor, underprivileged patients and vulnerable people.
As the Wachet Hospital was established with the noble aim and purpose to treat the patients free of charge as much as possible, the members of Sanghas, the nuns and the yogis undergoing religious meditation were treated free. However, ordinary patients were charged with nominal fees.
On the auspicious day of hospital opening, the members of Directive-Owada Sayadaws and Kyaswa Sayadaw were all witnessing the process of ongoing medical treatment; they were seen beaming with smiles coming out from their hearts out of the milestone achievement.
The moment to moment activities of medical treatment turned into unseen power of strength for Sayadaw Dr. Lakkhana that could be used in his future endeavors in the day-to-day operation of the hospital. The invisible strength was rising up into the sky. The activities that occurred on that day at the health clinic had filled into the heart of Sayadaw Dr. Lakkhana the five spiritual faculties such as (1) Faith; (2) Vigor; (3) Mindfulness; (4) Concentration; and (5) Wisdom. Initial success had led the way and all the future successes were sure to follow.
To be continued