Standing proudly in front of the ambulance, Ko Win Naung remembers when the initiative was first suggested. “It was on a rainy day in August, 2015, he said, “I was chatting with my friends. A friend recounted his experience of accompanying a referral case to Yangon Central Women’s Hospital. There was no ambulance service, and the patient had to make her own arrangements. This was a typical story in our area. This conversation sparked an idea”, Ko Win Naung continued: “A friend said, ‘Win Naung, how about starting our own ambulance service? You have the network’ and those words turned into action!”
Thirty-year old Ko Win Naung, who lives in Sarmalauk, is a former member of the Sarmalauk Youth Information Corner (YIC) and was one of its first members in the early 2000s. The YIC programme is a joint initiative between the United Nations Population Fund and the Ministry of Health. Win Naung joined the YIC in the early days, and participated in its community health and development support programmes. After he left, he maintained contact with the YIC, as well as its former members. He explained: “We wanted to start an ambulance service. After considering several options, we turned to U Zaw Naing, the head of the government run Rural Health Centre (RHC), Sarmalauk. He is a very capable youth leader, and when he heard about our initiative, he was enthusiastic.”
The latter part of the year saw Win Naung and his like-minded friends hold successive meetings with village elders, also attended by U Zaw Naing and YIC members. The village agreed to provide the funds to purchase the ambulance, on the condition that it was managed by the YIC. Zaw Naing said: “We were thrilled. It showed the magnitude of trust they put in the YIC. So, we agreed to manage the ambulance service. I helped to get the necessary documents so that the YIC could legally own the vehicle.” The ambulance was purchased and in service by May of this year.
Youths from Sarmalauk YIC are committed to managing the ambulance service. Twenty-two year old Ma Thin Thin Wai reflected on the other members’ enthusiasm: “We are very proud as this is the first initiative of its kind in our community, and also a good example of how youth can contribute to the welfare of its community.”
Win Naung and other former YIC members drive and maintain the ambulance on a voluntary basis. He said: “We have 18 referrals on average a month. Four of these were pregnant women who were referred to the Central Women’s Hospital in Yangon. It used to take more than an hour to get to the hospital, given the traffic in Yangon. The ambulance takes about 40 minutes.”
Win Naung and his friends, together with YIC members and other villagers, formed a committee to manage the ambulance service. He explained: “The service is free of charge. However, a trip costs on average MMK 20,000 (equivalent to USD 20). To cover the costs, the committee members contribute on a monthly basis, and until now this has been enough. But we welcome donations as well.”
Enthusiasm about the ambulance service is abundant. When asked about the future, Win Naung said simply: “Oh, we will have to carry on. There will be other young people to take our place when the time comes. We are very proud of this initiative. It certainly serves as a beacon for future generations to aspire to, of that, I am quite certain.”