Gifts of Life

I was reminded the other day about Christmas. Which was funny, because I had forgotten all about it. Here at the monastery, it’s easy to do that — we live entirely outside of that cultural and religious bubble. But I also remember very well how this can be a stressful and frenetic time of year. And so I offer a story of giving – because it can be a wonderful relief from the pressure of the consumerist version of Christmas to reflect on what you have already given.

We offer for many things. And among all those, what perhaps most directly alleviates suffering are gifts of healthcare. Besides the hospital that I wrote about in an earlier post, Metta In Action has been supporting the Aye Metta Ayu Dana medical clinic at Chanmyay Myaing Monastery for over a decade. And the clinic has momentum: every Saturday, every Sunday, the place is full of people getting general medical care or dental care. There are the Grannies who come every week for their ongoing medicines; the worried parents with an ill child; nuns from down the road, the youngster whose baby tooth needs extraction, or an elder with a toothache. Here, all manner of humanity are being served, and in many ways, thanks to the generosity of the many donors (including we at MIA) who fund the endless work that the clinic does so well.

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The roughly 40 medical and 110 dental patients who come to the clinic every week only have to pay a nominal sum for a patient record book — the rest is free of charge. But as anywhere, medical and dental care are relatively expensive here. So the monastery has to pay the equivalent of about 600 USD every month just to keep the medical and dental clinic going. There are local donors, but the sums they offer are nominal. So Sayadaw relies on foreign donations to give the clinic a fiscal boost when it’s needed.

Aye Metta Ayu Dana Clinic Expenses

The dentists, doctors, and nurses are mostly volunteers, but the medicines they prescribe and use are over half of the monthly expenses. The most expensive are the essential dental anesthetics, which are very hard to source.

When there are foreign donors, these costs are easier to meet, but Ma Thwet in the CMMC office told me that right now there are not so many donors as usual. So Metta In Action donations become necessary to fill the gaps and defray expenses.

The clinic is not the only thing that Sayadaw U Indaka does at Chanmyay Myaing Monastery to contribute to community health. Last week, I noticed a big banner over the side gate, next to the medical clinic building. I didn’t pay any attention, assuming it was an announcement for a wedding or some other big noisy gala that sometimes happens around here. But last Sunday morning I noticed there was a forest of slippers outside the big Sima Hall next to the clinic, and the ground floor was chock full of people.

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It turned out that the banner was announcing something wonderful – and very popular! This was another kind of celebration of life: the twelfth annual blood drive at Chanmyay Myaing monastery, supported also by our very generous neighbors at the Silvery Pearl Dairy. Roughly 20 staff from the National Blood Center had trundled up in an enormous bus and set up an efficient and busy clinic — with staff distributing forms; techs, nurses, and a doctor doing intake; a long queue of donors waiting; and dozens of beds already at mid-morning filled to capacity with people giving blood.

I was astonished by the number of people waiting their turn. Clearly, the dana economy does not only apply to money in Myanmar! Many of the people living near the monastery work in the factories down the road, and many struggle to make ends meet. But there everybody was on a day off work, some dressed in jeans, others in their ‘Sunday-going-to-meeting’ longyi, to make this vital offering for unknowable recipients. The crowd was predominantly young rather than middle aged, and there were certainly no elders there. Here there is an age limit of 55 years of age — which for me was very disappointing!

After talking to the right people and getting a waiver on the age limit, I made my own donation — and learned afterwards that there was a gift for us all, offered by the sponsor: a take-out box of fried vermicelli, and a little bag with swag — a gaudy hot pink towel festooned with embroidered teddy bears, a bottle of water, a single-serve container of milk from the dairy, and an egg! And I wondered if the free meal and the goodies were part of what was drawing the crowd.

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By early afternoon the drive was winding down and I came back to find out how it had gone. The staff said they were very happy and surprised how popular it was this year – in just four hours, 160 people had made a donation! Since one pint of blood can save up to three lives, that makes over 450 lives saved. Many of those lives saved will be kids: the Children’s Hospital in Yangon is the biggest user of donated blood here.

So all this together is made possible directly or indirectly by the contributions from many generous donors — maybe yours! When we do metta meditation we repeat “May you be well and happy” over and over – but these medical activities truly take it to the level of action! “May you be well,” literally becomes the lifeblood of the community when it is translated into medicines, and care, actual blood, and vital community support.

So how far does your Metta In Action dana go? Of course we can’t quantify that, but we do know that right now down the road somewhere a baby, or young woman, or grandfather is healthy and free of pain because of it. And that’s good enough for us!

So season’s greetings from Mingaladon! May the memory of your generosity bring joy this holiday season and beyond.

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