Saw Oo, 30, arrived at the Shwe Pyi Hein Monastery in North Dagon at 6am on a recent Wednesday and stayed for about four hours, but he didn’t come to pray.
The unemployed man, who says he is addicted to alcohol, came to see Dr. Pwint Phyu Phyu Thwe, who volunteers her medical services once a week at a one-room clinic in the monastery.
The clinic provides free medical care on a first-come, first-served basis.
“If you don’t get here early, the slots will fill up and you won’t get an appointment,” said Saw Oo, who was told about the clinic from a friend who had received care there.
Dr. Pwint Phyu Phyu Thwe, whose full-time job is at Nitipon, a luxury beauty and skin clinic, gave Saw Oo medication to help ease the effects of alcohol withdrawal. Saw Oo would be one of the first of about 30 patients she would see that day. By about 10am, she had treated patients for stomach cramps, flu symptoms, leg pain, chest pain, arm pain, dizziness and high blood pressure.
“At my job, most of my patients are wealthy, so it is fulfilling to also help people who cannot afford to pay anything”, Dr Pwint Phyu Phyu Thwe said.
If this modest clinic did not exist, medical care for most of the poor people in the area would be nonexistent. Some refuse to go anywhere else.
“Before this clinic opened, I had never gone anywhere for treatment”, said Tin Shwe, 90, a longtime cigarette smoker who first came to the clinic a year ago complaining of tightness in her chest.
She was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, chronic pulmonary disease and asthma and is undergoing long-term treatment.
“I feel comfortable coming here for my medical care”, she said.
Despite its popularity and necessity, the clinic is in serious danger of shutting down.
Once staffed with several doctors who volunteered their time one day a week, Dr Pwint Phyu Phyu Thwe is now the only doctor left.
If she is accepted into a graduate university programme next year to continue her sub-specialty medical education in dermatology, it is likely there will be no one to replace her.
“Some doctors have volunteered for one day, but don’t return”, she said. “The clinic supervisor is always worried I will not be able to come on Wednesdays because she will have to turn away many patients who wait for medical care”.
Daw Khin Mer Nyo, the clinic’s supervisor, said the facility is in dire need not only of volunteer doctors but also of donations.
The free clinic is run exclusively by volunteers, and the medicine that is dispensed is purchased with money given by well-wishers. Maintenance of the clinic and its equipment is also managed mostly through donations.
The clinic is part of the nationwide Sitagu Hospital Programme, with 16 locations across Myanmar. The North Dagon clinic is the only location in Yangon.
The main hospital, Sitagu Ayudana in Sagaing Hills, was founded by Ashin Nyanissara. The affiliated Sitagu Missionary Association was established by the Sayadaw in 1989.
The Sayadaw abide by the teachings of Lord Buddha, who has said: “If you admire me, take care of patients in the same way you would do to me.”
Dr. Pwint Phyu Phyu Thwe has followed that teaching by volunteering her medical expertise to those who would otherwise not receive care. It is hoped that other can join her, monastery officials said.
The clinic, which opened in 2012, has had at least one unexpected positive influence – it has brought people to this place of holy worship, with its Buddha images and giant gong that visitors can ring, who would otherwise probably never visit.
Ohn Kywe 71, who first came to the clinic a year ago complaining of weakness in his lower extremities and was diagnosed with hypertension, said it simply feels good to come here.
“I came here because my friend told me to come”, said Ohm Kywe, a retired second driver for a bus company. “I didn’t even know there was a monastery until I came to the clinic”.
Those who wish to volunteer or donate to the clinic should contact Daw Khin Mar Nyo at 09796766255 or 0973126645.