Cleft Over Borders in Myanmar: Yoon’s Story


In our impact report, we shared that, thanks to our monthly Bright Start donors, we were able to exceptionally arrange surgery for 11 children in the capital city, Yangon. Among those children, a photo of Yoon* and her father, Phyo was featured.

Early in 2020, Phyo and his wife Aung learned they would be expecting their second child. In preparation for their growing family, the two made the decision to move to a border community. The plan was to find better-quality jobs by commuting into Thailand each day.

The family receiving formula packages, and Aung syringe-feeding Yoon after leaving the hospital.

Once they relocated, the pandemic quickly evolved into a long-term reality. The border would remain closed for three years due to local restrictions, and later, political instability in Myanmar.

After a few months without work, Phyo became a labourer – the best option for work in the village – earning just enough to make the family’s rent.

Then, Yoon was born with cleft lip and palate. Aung described it as a grieving period. At the hospital, Aung tried to breast feed, but Yoon would aspirate and choke. It was nothing like her experience with their firstborn and the nurses didn’t know how to help.

Yoon receiving an in-person checkup of cleft-connected challenges and to monitor her asthma.

They did know of TF’s local partner in the region, who could support through telehealth during this complicated time. With plenty of support and practice, Aung eventually got the hang of feeding and returned home.

At first, it was a dark period, and Aung’s mental health suffered. Work for her husband was precarious, and she yearned for the support of her own mother, hours away. They considered a return to their village but could not afford another transition.

TF’s partner social worker introduced them to another parent whose child was further along in their cleft journey. Having someone else to talk to who had experience with cleft was exactly what they needed.

Phyo checking up on his daughter as she recovers.

The program also ensured the family had enough resources to keep Yoon growing – by providing supplementary formula. Aung shared,

“I really appreciated the help from the project. We are relieved that we have formula milk for our daughter. Without that, we would be in big trouble”.

Yoon received regular telehealth and in-person checkups. Then a dramatic change in the political landscape affirmed the border closure.

Phyo with his daughter Yoon after surgery.

With no local hospitals able to provide surgical care, TF worked to exceptionally arrange care in the capital city, Yangon. Yoon and her father would make the journey with the other children and parents, and Aung would stay home to care for their firstborn. It was Aung’s first time apart from her daughter, and it was nerve-racking. The social workers made it easier by sending photo updates along the way.

In Yangon, the social workers noticed how dedicated Phyo was for his daughter’s recovery. Now, with surgery addressed, Yoon is supported by her parents and is thriving in speech therapy sessions. She is a busy, active toddler!

On the experience, Yoon’s father shared:

“My and my wife are relieved. We can work fully to earn for our children’s future! Thank you for all the help during this cleft journey. We are really appreciative! My daughter is beautiful and now healthy too, thanks to this project, the social worker and surgeon. That is all we can ask for our daughter. We will not forget this help”.

Aung reunited with her daughter, and the family together as Yoon recovered at home.

Scroll To Top