Meet Our Team
"My commitment to Burma is the marriage of two important parts of myself: the leftist, social welfare leanings I inherited from my mother - even in high school, I was active in protesting the war in Vietnam. The other side is a resonance with Buddhism, which has been an ever-deepening journey through my life. Some of my early experiences taught me that these two parts of my life are not separate from one another – my spiritual practices shape my intention to create a world based on the values of service, kindness and compassion.
"In 1976, I joined the Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice and walked from Chicago to Washington, D.C. with a core of about 45 walkers. Japanese Buddhist monks walked the entire breadth of the U.S. continent in a show of solidarity to never allow another Hiroshima or Nagasaki. I was inspired by their Buddhism, as well as their actions in which their spirituality gave voice to social justice. In 1984, when I sat Vipassana meditation I began to know the real heart of Buddhism.
"I was introduced to Burmese Theravada Buddhism by Alan Clements, the first U.S. citizen ordained as a monk in Burma, and then by his teacher the Sayadaw U Pandita. It was at a seven-week retreat in Arizona with U Pandita that I fell in love with the spirit of Burma and began to learn of the long-term degradation of a people by a brutal ruling military regime. I knew that some day I wanted to do something to work with the people of Burma, never believing that 26 years later, the military would still be ruling and the country would have declined even further.
"In 2010, my husband, Andy and I began to explore ideas of what we wanted to do when we “retired,” which we believed to be sometime off in the distant future. I said I had always wanted to work with the people of Burma in some capacity. He talked to a friend who said – “I know a Burmese woman.” Within weeks, we were connected to the community in the San Francisco Bay Area; then to Minmahaw School in Mae Sot, Thailand where young students from Burma were seeking an opportunity to study and live away from their war-torn and military junta-ruled country.
"That July, Andy went to teach math at Minmahaw because they had just lost their math teacher and he was on summer break – so why not? I followed a few weeks later to teach and to support the management team with their financial issues. I spent the first week shaking my head at the numbers - it seemed impossible that they were accomplishing so much with so little.
"We’ve never looked back. We continue to go back to Minmahaw, inspired by the student’s desire to learn, and their passion for an opportunity that could mean real change not only for them but also for the rest of their country.
"Minmahaw’s slogan has always been – Next Generation is our First Priority – and that is just so right for Burma!
"Organized, managed and run by refugees from Burma, with international volunteer teachers, Minmahaw School grows and changes the curriculum to meet the needs of a changing Burma. Just like U Pandita and the Burmese monks I sat with in meditation, the students at Minmahaw, made up of many different ethnicities, are working hard and accomplishing much. Their goals are aligned with going back to Burma and taking their hard-earned lessons to a people literally dying to come out of the dark.
"While making the early-on connections with human-rights and pro-democracy organizations, I was introduced to Mike, working with BHM. He kindly and patiently gave me as much information about Burma as I could take in and relayed what BHM has been doing with the Backpack Medics. Impressed and inspired by his dedication and the BHM team, I stayed in touch over the last few years. About a year ago we realized it would benefit all of us if BHM could be the fiscal sponsor for Minmahaw School. This means BHM is the 501(c) (3) non-profit organization folks can make donations to for distribution to Minmahaw School. BHM’s willingness to expand their education program, while staying primarily focused on health and medicine has meant growing the support for Minmahaw and other potential educational projects.
"It has been with the greatest honor that I have now worked closely with Jen, and as an organization have been included on their board. I look now to help BHM expand their educational program to support Minmahaw and other grass-roots education efforts.
"Passion is what fuels all of us on the BHM Board. My passion is that by supporting opportunities in education, hand-in-hand with bettering their health, people may have a chance to live in a democracy, with the real possibility of changing their lives for the better."
Jan joins the board of BHM as the Director of Education, charged with overseeing education programs along the Thai-Burma border, scholarships to refugees from Burma, and educational outreach in the US. She has previously served on the board of the Burmese American Democratic Alliance and is an active supporter of the Minmahaw School in Thailand.