INTERVIEW: ‘We must blame those who created this nightmare’

Myanmar’s shadow health minister details efforts to secure aid for the opposition during a US visit.
By Khet Mar for RFA Burmese
INTERVIEW: ‘We must blame those who created this nightmare’ Zaw Wai Soe, the Minister for Health and Education for Myanmar’s opposition National Unity Government, is interviewed by RFA in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, June 21, 2023.
Screenshot from RFA video

Zaw Wai Soe, the minister of health and education for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, recently traveled to Washington DC, seeking support from U.S. officials, representatives of government institutions and international organizations, and members of the Burmese diaspora living in America. The NUG is made up of former lawmakers and opponents of the military junta that overthrew the democratically elected government in February 2021 in a coup d’etat.

On Wednesday, RFA Burmese Service reporter Khet Mar spoke with him about the substance of his meetings, his government’s efforts to support Myanmar’s opposition, and the state of the country’s education and medical sectors.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:

RFA: In an interview in May, you said that during your U.S. visit, you would meet government officials, lawmakers and development partners to explain the situation in Myanmar and how they can provide assistance to the country. I’d like to know about the results of your meetings.

Zaw Wai Soe: I discussed Myanmar’s situation with foundations, [international] NGOs and philanthropic organizations. When I explained to them how the junta uses airstrikes against the people, how our children study [amid conflict], and how we run our hospitals, they expressed a desire to help us. I’m satisfied with the meetings. We established better connections. We also held meetings with State Department officials.

RFA: The National Unity Government has been running schools in Myanmar [as an alternative to junta-run schools]. But students in cities like Yangon and Mandalay cannot go to such schools and won’t attend the junta’s schools either. What do you want to tell those students and their parents?

Zaw Wai Soe: In the border areas, we have set up education online by using internet access from Thailand, China and India. But it is hard to run a school safely in the heart of the country when the military controls the internet. So, in my meetings with U.S. officials, we requested help with communications systems to use in running schools and healthcare systems. But we can’t rely on that assistance alone.

As for the students of Myanmar, I’d like to urge them to get their education. We are implementing a basic education completion assessment. It aims to provide higher education and vocational training for students. A student who is 17 years old can take a test for the assessment. Months ago, some 70,000 students, including members of the [anti-junta] People’s Defense Force [paramilitary group] took the test. The students should know about this assessment. International universities accept scores from the test.

RFA: There are many doctors who have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement and several hospitals and clinics have been forced to shut down [since the coup]. Lots of doctors have been arrested. Amid such a situation, what do you want to tell those seeking medical care?   

Zaw Wai Soe: As most people know, the country's education, health, economic, and most other sectors were destroyed by the reckless acts of [the military coup leaders]. We must place blame on those who put the country and its citizens in this nightmare situation. But blaming them alone won’t solve the problem and we have to help the people as much as possible. We are trying.

We have been running a new medical school in Kachin state and a nursing school in Kayah state because we need to produce health care workers. We have started a six-month course, which can be extended to a year if necessary, to train experts who can provide primary health care to the people. We have already trained more than 10,000 people as medics. Additionally, we have been building locally-administered health and human resources systems in Kayah and Chin states.

To do more, we need financial support and other assistance from the international community. That’s why I am seeking such support as one of the reasons for this visit. Because of our efforts, six months ago, donors from European countries provided us with US$8.4 million and plan to send another US$20 million next year. We also need to work together with the ethnic groups of Myanmar in order to provide assistance to the country’s border regions.

Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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