The Umpiem Mai refugee camp in eastern Thailand was erected three decades ago to provide temporary housing for Burmese refugees fleeing the repressive rule of their country’s military government. Today, more than 13,000 people still live in this well-organized community of straw and bamboo buildings packed tightly together on a steep and verdant hillside.
This past winter, eight students from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) traveled to the camp to take a course with refugee students at Umpiem Mai’s Public Health Institute (PHI). The course was offered by the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard through the Department of Global Health and Population at HSPH. PHI, started by Community Partners International, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), in collaboration with the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW), provides students from the camp with undergraduate-level general studies, some clinical work, and a year of focused training in public health. The aim is to bolster the local public health workforce to meet the many needs of displaced populations along the Thai-Burma border, such as reproductive health services and infectious disease control.