Wendy Bixby is the fabulous Volunteer Coordinator at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House. She recently spent a month travelling in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Myanmar is just west of China and is about the same size as our home state of Texas. During her visit, Wendy was fortunate to visit six hospitals and one of two existing hospices. She wrote about her visit to the hospice, called U Hla Tun Hospice (Cancer) Foundation, in a recent Volunteer Voice newsletter article for Hospice Austin, and I thought you might be interested.
Enjoy your vicarious expedition into the world of hospice care of Myanmar courtesy of Wendy.
Hospice in Myanmar
“Our Duty is to Care – Care is to Share”
“Our Duty is to Care – Care is to Share” is the motto of U Hla Tun founder of U Hla Tun Hospice (Cancer) Foundation. Mr. Tun established this foundation in memory of his daughter Ruby who died of Leukemia in 1997. During Ruby’s illness Mr. Tun found a book on hospices and liked the concept. So what would have been Ruby’s inheritance became the seed money for the trust fund that this foundation is supported by as well as by donations from the community. (www.uhlatunhospicemyanmar.org)
Most noticeable is the gentle nature and hospitality of the Myanmar people. I visited over a dozen cities, saw more than 100 pagodas and stayed at hotels, monasteries and local people’s homes. At every stop we were greeted with lovely smiles, a cold drink and a delicious snack. I was never hungry and very alert taking in all the similarities and differences between our culture and theirs whether the object was physical, emotional or spiritual. The people that I met have mastered making people feel welcome and comfortable and will go out of their way to get what you want if they think it will make you happy. You may find 3-4 generations living together in a small home. The culture is very social and we instantly became part of the family.
Burma (now called Myanmar) is located almost exactly on the other side of the globe from the U.S. It is just west of China and is about the same size as Texas. This tropical land is rich in resources like fertile agricultural land, teak wood and priceless gems and metals. The richness of people’s hearts, patient, warmth and generosity, were of the most interest and inspiration to me. Ninety percent of the population is Buddhist and the inevitability of suffering and dying is easily accepted.
I visited six hospitals and one of two hospices. I went into the U Hla Tun hospice a 50 bed inpatient center in Mandalay established in 2003. Presently, all the patients have a diagnosis of cancer and the admission criteria are as follows:
I) A hospital discharge certificate, II) Status – terminally ill, poorest of the poor with no homes no dependents, III) Free from any infectious diseases and, IV) any race or religion or creed. There are no costs or charges to the patient and the patient’s length of stay is unlimited, with some patients being there for 3 years. Burial costs and emotional support to the bereaved family is also included. They use only paid staff, there are no volunteers.
We were told that the patients will often follow a schedule similar to that of the monastery, i.e. early morning prayer and chanting, breakfast, chores, meditation twice a day and they will also have guest monks come and lecture. I noticed photos of some musical and dance entertainment as well. People from the community will often offer meals to all patients and staff in addition to monetary donations.
When I walked in I was first struck by the openness and the large windows, then by the concrete, and then I saw the common grounds where patients could garden and landscape as they pleased. All my training on patient privacy was circling my mind as they took us to visit the patients and told us about their illnesses. They have no privacy laws it seems in Myanmar and at all the 6 hospitals that I visited it was the same. They would tell us, “It’s ok to take photos of the patients.”
We were taken to the chapel and our group sat and sincerely chanted a loving kindness prayer led by four Buddhist monks. It was here at the Mandalay Hospice that I really believed that my chanting made a difference. Whether it did physically I have no idea, but the people were touched by our intention and even more so seeing the “foreigners” offer this kindness.
Dame Dr. Cecily Saunders, founder of modern hospices has really shared this concept of loving care all over the world. From Myanmar to Texas I return glad that we have a volunteer program and very proud of the incredible volunteers we work with. I was overwhelmed with love when I returned to my work and I can’t really explain why. I do know that I love working with each one of you on our Hospice Austin team.