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For our latest installment of “Giving Tuesday,” a series where we share travel-themed charities, TPG Contributor Shayne Benowitz introduces us to Burma Boating’s Sailing Clinic, the medical needs of the Moken people, and how you can embark on an adventure that will change your life — and the lives of others.
The unspoiled islands and beaches along the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and other stretches of Southeast Asia inspired longtime sailors Herbert Mayrhauser, Christoph Schwanitz and Janis Vougloukas to found Burma Boating, which organizes custom sailing holidays aboard luxury yachts through these pristine waters for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Within the Andaman Sea, these sailors also encountered the Moken people of the Mergui Archipelago, a semi-nomadic ethnic minority who are often referred to as “sea gypsies” and live primitively off the land and sea. For years, Burma Boating’s yachts were among the only boats to sail through the region regularly, and the crew developed a rapport with the islanders. During these outings, the Burma Boating crew was often asked to bring medicine or basic supplies back on their next visit, and they began to transport wounded islanders on their boats to seek treatment.
This got the sailors thinking that there might be a more organized way to help the Mokens — and soon, the Sailing Clinic was born.
Burma Boating’s founders recruited Eva Lupprian as project manager, and over the course of a few months, assembled a team of volunteers, doctors, nurses and legal professionals who embarked on their first mission in April, 2015 to assess and attend to the medical needs of the Moken.
Led by Captain Ekachai Pongpaew and Burma Boating co-founder Vougloukas, the crew set sail from Kawthoung, Myanmar to visit four islands and their local villages: Buda Island; Bo Cho Island and its village of Ma Kyone Galet: Great Swinton Island and its village of Pu Nala; and Lord Loughborough Island and its village of Jar Lann.
The Needs of the Moken People
What they found was very limited healthcare infrastructure due to the remoteness of the islands, as well as a lack of medical knowledge. Poverty-related illnesses such as diarrhea, dysentery and upper respiratory diseases were common, as well as major health problems like malaria, diabetes and hypertension. People also suffered from injuries caused by hard labor and illnesses caused by poor sanitation and hygiene. Midwives were scarce, and dental care was practically nonexistent.
Most Mokens relied on medicine men and healers for care, often believing that bad spirits were the cause of their maladies.
On their first mission, the Sailing Clinic provided eye exams to over 120 patients, provided diagnostic service, and attempted to educate the communities on caring for diabetes with glucometers, test strips and one-way needles. While their challenges are many, they plan to return twice a year to continue to build on this initial voyage.
How You Can Help
The Sailing Clinic is currently planning its next mission for this winter, and is actively seeking volunteers, doctors and nurses. To volunteer, you can sign up on their website to receive more information. You can also donate to help fund medical supplies and logistics for future missions.
For the intrepid traveler, the Sailing Clinic is an incredible opportunity for voluntourism that will surely enrich the lives of the Mokens — as well as your own.
To learn more about Myanmar, be sure to see:
Useful Tips for Traveling to Myanmar
Things to Do in Myanmar’s Ancient City, Yangon
Longboats, Monasteries & A Winery – Inle Lake, Myanmar
What to Do in Bagan, Myanmar – Temples, River Cruises and Hikes
Have you participated in a voluntourism mission? Please tell us about it in the comments below!
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