tv Asia Insight PBS September 14, 2016 6:30pm-7:01pm PDT
they call themselves the free funeral service society, or ffss. they visit people who have lost family members but are too poor to hold a proper funeral. the group carries out the service on their behalf. the ffss doesn't limit itself to this funeral work. it also runs several medical centers for the poor. it supports people effected by disasters. like cyclones and floods. and they even provide vocational training. much of its work is done on a
volunteer basis. the ffss was set up 15 years ago when myanmar was fully under military rule. >> translator: whenever i left the capital, i was always watched by the government's secret police force. that's what always happened. >> reporter: but ffss members didn't buckle under the government's pressure. then in 2011 the momentous change from military rule to a civilian administration began. and the once apprehensive public flocked to take part in ffss activities. today they have five volunteers and received about a million u.s. dollars in donations every
year. ♪ as the group's activities spread, members have a special word to explain their dedication. parahita, to do good for others. the buddhist virtue of benevolence. in this episode of "asia insight," we follow people in myanmar sewing the seeds of a new society. often called asia's final frontier for development, myanmar has a population of 51,000,000. in recent years, rising foreign investment has brought annual economic growth of about 8%.
but through almost half a century of military rule basic infrastructure, health services and social welfare have been largely ignored. 1 in 4 citizens still live on less than $2 a day. north dagon is in the northern part of nangon. and home to the ffss offices. 56-year-old tu is one of the organizations founder members. he became its chairman in 2008. cho-tu is also famous in another sphere. he is a film actor who is enormously popular in the 1990s,
winning myanmar's equivalent of an academy award. he became a household name across the country. >> it took a lot of work to come here today. i don't get paid of course, but i want to practice pahita, the same way cho-tu does. >> translator: i came here today to do everything i can to help others. i want to put all my heart into giving prohita. >> translator: it's about acting for the sake of others. regardless of their race, rel l reridgen, their social stats or their wealth. it's all about people helping one another. we're all just people afterall. >> reporter: every day people
come to the ffss offices to donate money. about 10,000 people in total come each year. annual donations amount to over $1 million u.s. some people donate items instead of money. today one family has contributed eight air conditioning units. cho-tu takes the time to pose for photographs with donors. he makes sure to convey his gratitude for their kindness.
>> reporter: every day from 8:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night, the ffss responds to requests for free funerals. on busy days there can be more than 50 cases. the work force of 24ur9 employees and 20 volunteers divides into teams to deal with them all. nerve kai is 31. she began volunteering two years ago. today she's leading one of the funeral service teams. they head to a residential area 15 minutes from the head office. an 80-year-old resident of this building has passed away.
charge $300 for a funeral service like this. a big burden for a family like this. >> translator: we're so grateful to this group. a service like this is a great help to poor people like us. we do our best, we try to lessen their grief, if only by a little bit. they have helped perform mo thousands of funerals. the group also run as free clinic at its head office. it opened in 2007.
today it has seven departments. including internal medicine, pediatrics, opthumaulg. the facility has 50 doctors, all of them volunteers. one of those medics is 68-year-old shwe tun, he specializes in internal medicine and has supported the clinic since it opened. he continues to run his own clinic but works with the ffss three day as week. >> translator: we are here to work for people who are suffering from extreme poverty. i want to volunteer here for the rest of my life. >> reporter: the clinic provides more than check ups and
treatment. medicine is also supplied free of charge. about 200 people visit the clinic on an average day. the ffss also runs four world clinics to further assist the poor. there's a statue at the entrance of the ffss head office. it is a bust of the group's founder and one of myanmar's leading film directors. he set up ffss the year after an experience he had during a hospital stay of his own. >> translator: tuka was in bed next to an elderly woman. one day the doctor told the woman's family that there was no hope for her. after they heard that, her relatives vanished. they never returned to the
hospital. >> reporter: a few days later, the woman died alone. tuka got in touch with the family to tell them she had passed. he discovered that too poor to pay for a funeral, they felt they had no choice but to simply abandoned her. shocked by this discovery, thuka spoke to thu and other friends from the movie world. they set up ffss in 2001 and began organizing free funeral services. the group's work quickly drew attention and they received many requests. after a while thu realized something. >> translator: we were holding 40 or 50 funerals a day. that many. i wondered why so many people were dying.
that was when i discovered many of these people had died because they couldn't get medical care. so we set up a clinic to help people in that sort of situation. >> reporter: in 2007, ffss set up a free clinic on the grounds of a monastery. many poor people rushed to take advantage of its services. but this drew the ier of the military government. >> translator: whenever i left the capital, i was always watched by the government's secret police force. that's what always happened. they really didn't like that people were depending on us. on our services, rather than on the government. >> reporter: that year monks and students held major demonstrations against the authorities. thu supported them by providing
food and water. he and his wife were held by the authorities for a week. >> translator: because we supported the monks and other demonstrators, the military government saw us as enemies. they tried to crush the free funeral service society. while we're in custody, the government closed the offices and they closed the clinic. all of our facilities were shut down. as a result of that, naturally our donations plummeted. >> reporter: the government also ordered the group to leave the monastery and move to a plot of land in out er yangon.
>> translator: when we got there, we realized it was a disposal site for plastic bags. we're still coming up with trash. >> reporter: but they did not give up. they removed all the rubbish and built a new office and clinic so they could continue their work. ♪ in may 2008, a huge tropical cyclone hit myanmar. in the south of the country, the delta region suffered massive damage. the ffss used its fund to buy food and blankets. the group carried this aid by boat and handed it out directly to stranded victims. >> translator: we provided aid to the survivors of the cyclone. the fact was reported in the
global media. people everywhere knew about us then. people became aware of us. and that meant that military government could no longer suppress us in the way they had before. our group was back on the map. after we were held by the authorities, my husband was banned from acting. i suggested he focus on his work with the ffss. he began to take prohita very seriously. i think that was great for him. >> translator: she's my guiding light. >> reporter: when ffss was founded 15 years ago, it had just nine members.
today it has 110 staff and 500 volunteers. in 2013 the group began a new initiative and formed an ambulance team. to take people who are ill or injured to hospital. there are 35 people on the team and the service is available 24 hours a day. 30-year-old is a volunteer on the ambulance team. his regular job is as a cycle taxi cab driver. he works at least 10 hours a day from morning to night.
his daily wage is about $4. his only just making ends meet. but he likes his job. >> translator: if i get a call for an emergency rescue, i can go straight to help the ffss. my job is flexible. so, i can drop everything and ride straight there on my cycle. this is my home. >> reporter: he lives with his 63-year-old mother. he was still in high school when his father died. his sister is married and his older brother became a monk
eight years ago. ever since, he's cared for their mother alone. along with his job in the housework, he volunteers with the ffss three days a week. >> translator: i received this certificate for helping with a work shop on emergency medicine in the country side. i keep it as a souvenir. >> translator: i think the work suits him very well. and eahe's really helping peopl. i want my son to do whatever makes him happy. >> translator: in years past, the military government imposed a lot of restrictions and bans on things. lots of stuff was forbidden.
but thu clearly showed us that pruhita is the right thing to do. thinking of others and working for others is a good thing. a virtue. >> reporter: today he helps transport a patient home from a public hospital. this man is 61 and has late-stage lung cancer. wanting to spend his last days at home, his family reached out to the ffss for help. it's 160 kilometers from yangon to the man's home town. he keep as careful eye on the
atends funerals. >> translator: i continue doing this kind of work that way i can help the family's grief by carrying the deceased by myself. they know me. that's why i do it. >> reporter: today's funeral is for a baby boy, just two months old. born with a weak heart, he received treatment at the public hospital. sadly he lost his fight for life.
>> translator: i hope our son has gone to a better place. >> reporter: it's about 30 kilometers west of yangon. he's working towards working in more rural areas. last year one local supporter provided this land for free. the group has set up a farm here. local farmers can receive expert advice on local farming.
>> reporter: the farm has planted okra, egg plant, water spinach and other vegetables as an experiment. thu is planning to built a center here for organic growing techniques. >> translator: because we deal with so many funerals, we see a lot of people dying from various illnesses and many of these deaths have to do with myanmar using lots of chemicals to grow vegetables. people eat them and it damages their health. we want to grow organic vegetables and prevent illness. >> reporter: inspired by the example of ffss, new volunteer groups have sprung up in the
country side. thu wants to support these groups. today he's discussing how to prevent disease. >> translator: diarrhea is a major problem right now. we really need clean water. >> reporter: let's gather as much water by the end of the day. let's set that up. talk to a doctor about what kind of treatment and what kind of medicine you need. that's what i want you to do. don't worry about the money. and remember, prevention is better than cure. keep your water supply clean. >> translator: we closed all the
street food stalls. we went ahead and did that. >> translator: local volunteer groups like yours and yangon groups like ours must cooperate with each other. that's essential. we have to cooperate. get together and decide on the best way to deal with the situation. then get in touch with us. for my part, i'll send workers and medicine to you. >> reporter: after the discussion, he takes them to a spot that's very important to him. this monument bares words that symbolize his commitment to it's as strong as stone, like
the son and moon they rise above difficulties to help those in need. >> translator: the people of myanmar are not the only oneses in need of prahita. i think it's important for all those to have a with benevolent heart. >> reporter: 15 years after its founding, it remains committed to helping myanmar's poor and through the principal of prahita, they continue to sew the seeds of a new society.
hello there, welcome to nhk "newsline." it is thursday september 15th, 9:00 a.m., i'm catherine kobayashi in tokyo. people in southern china are hunkering down as the most powerful storm of the year pushes forward. officials have raised their alert over typhoon meranti to the highest level. the storm made landfall in fujian province of leaving a dozen people injured in taiwan. it continue s thrash the island. strong winds pummeled a shipyard and on the streets, a person riding a scooter