Leadership and Determination
Born in 1949 in Rangoon, Burma, Dr. San San Min had a childhood of privilege and entitlement. As the daughter of Rangoon's mayor, San San grew up with servants and tutors. However, her parents understood and accepted the civic duties that came with that lifestyle. Her father's open-door policy of actively listening to the needs of the community and her mother's insistence that San San and her siblings assume many household chores gave San San Min a platform to make the professional choices she has made. San San Min became a medical doctor - against the stern wishes from her mother that she not pursue a professional career. "Working with sex workers and truck drivers (on HIV/AIDS awareness) is not what my mother expected of her only daughter" says Min. "…But it was my passion (to help others) that led me to do this, not defiance." She reflects on how the strong Buddhist lessons she was taught by her parents inspired her to commit her life to improving the health of the neediest.
San San Min has provided care to the poor for almost thirty years. One of her first professional experiences was as a doctor for a 200 bed hospital in Central Burma, where she was on call 24 hours in Ob/Gyn. The patients showed their gratitude by honoring her with gifts of food, which she in turn gave to the hospital to help feed patients. Later, the Dutch affiliate of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) asked her to set up their first internationally-based program within Myanmar (Burma). What began as a therapeutic feeding program with a staff of 25, has now grown to four projects located in different parts of the country. Staffed by over 350 local professionals, Dr. Min has expanded MSF's services to include maternal and child health clinics, malaria prevention and control, TB and STD diagnosis/treatment and prevention programs.
San San's passion for the people of her homeland is reflected in the programs and services she developed. For example, when she set up the first feeding program for children, Dr. Min also offered services to the person accompanying a child (often an older sibling who had been forced to drop out of school). She made sure that services in this feeding program included teaching basic reading skills. When she added HIV/AIDS treatment to the program, Dr. Min was awarded a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship. This allowed her to spend a year at Tulane University studying the clinical and the psycho-social aspects of the disease, and to get specific training in Information, Education, and Communications (IEC) so that she could apply it to the growing HIV/AIDS crisis in Myanmar (Burma).
While the programs in Myanmar continue to expand, Dr. Min is off to a new challenge. In the coming weeks she will be leaving for Afghanistan where she will be working with Management Sciences for Health to develop a community-based health program.