From Elective Reviews - Thailand - Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, 2001 - Rachel Knightly
Karen refugees who escape fro Burma live in refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border whee there is a high prevalence of multidrug resistant malaria. I spent 8 weeks working with the SMRU Malaria research team in these camps (and in the SMRU air-conditioned office!)
I helped to look after people in the camp inpatient units - basic hospitals treating adults and children with malaria and dengue fever (mostly) run by expert local medics - and in regular, well-attended antenatal clinics. I worked 8 hours per day Monday-Friday, with an hour long journey to and back from morning camp visits or clinics most days, and a good long lunch beak each day. I worked with doctors and with 3 other medical students from around the world. At SMRU there's as much hands-on or academic experience as you ask for, which I really appreciated.
I stayed in a basic hostel in the town (Mae Sot) - it cost me £2 per night! I spent weekends with friends travelling round the area and around northern Thailand.
Mae Sot is full of locals, refugees and international volunteers - often healthcare or advocacy workers - so it's an amazing environment to step into, with great venues and very friendly people to meet. Most people speak English. I didn't know anyone when I arrived, and I left with really good friends from around the world. Lots of the SMRU team have internationally-acclaimed academic interests adn there are always academic projects running in the Unit, so you can get involved in publications and research that's directly applicable to the population you're serving. I was invited to spend time in clinics, camps and research and to balance my own time during the 8-week elective.
My experience with local doctors, and with patients in the camps, changed my perspective on global healthcare and really expanded my knowledge about war, persecution, and how to act for peace in a humanitarian and considered way. I'd say the only negatives were the heat and the potholes in the roads - you cycle everywhere around Mae Sot.
This elective would be suitable for people who want to throw themselves into a diverse, active culture. Mae Sot is full of opportunities to learn from inspiring people about issues which don't touch us here in the UK - poverty, forced migration, peace processes. It wouldn't be suitable for people who are afraid of dogs - there are lots in the streets.
With friends I met in Mae Sot, I travelled to Chiang Mae and Sukothai for the weekend. We cycled out to local temples and beautiful scenic walks. We fed elephants! We played in the SMRU football team. regular local pub quizzes in English are great with all the ex-pats. I went to a Karen church. We even enjoyed the town's hotel swimming pool.
Delicious food is unbelievably cheap from Thai night markets. Learn how to say 'not too spicy' in Thai. Don't expect a nice bug-free bathroom. Throw yourself into the culture and local events. Push through jetlag. And line your stomach before you take doxycycline!
Excluding flights - £400 - including some holiday!