The discussion aimed to better prepare young people to make their future career choices and to help them see the advantages of serving a greater purpose and making a tangible difference in the lives of others, which, first of all, will contribute to their personal and professional fulfillment. This event brought together Dr Cynthia Maung, Founder of Mae Tao Clinic, Robert J. Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), Sam Potolicchio, Leadership Professor at Georgetown University and the moderator of the discussion.
The event was organized in cooperation with the Futures Studio discussion platform. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Aurora Dialogues have gone online in 2020, allowing people from across the globe to join the discussion and contribute to it.
Dr Cynthia Maung, founder of Mae Tao Clinic, recalled the first humanitarian crisis she witnessed in her life. It was the time when she, as thousands of other people, was forced to leave her homeland and flee from Myanmar (former Burma) to Thailand. Displaced people, including women, children, and sick and elderly, were hiding from the military forces with no food and shelter. Driven by the desire to help people in need, Dr Maung later founded Mae Tao Clinic in Western Thailand, close to the Thailand-Myanmar border, to provide medical care, education and protection services to thousands of people from all ethnicities and religions.
Reflecting on COVID-19, Dr Maung spoke about how it affected their everyday work: “Most of our patients are people crossing the border from Myanmar to Thailand. The COVID-19 travel restrictions and the closed borders have made it more complicated for us to provide high-level care for them. And since many of them don’t have legal documents and health insurance and live in very isolated and remoted areas, they become more stigmatized.”
COVID-19 and the lockdown have also had a significant impact on the International Catholic Migration Commission’s (ICMC) work with migrants and refugees in many countries. Robert J. Vitillo, Secretary General of the ICMC, said that the pandemic hindered their work, making it impossible for their staff to provide help to people in the organization’s offices. It also prevented them from going out for home visits. Though it was hard, their painstaking efforts eventually paid off, enabling ICMC to provide remote help, despite facing a public health emergency themselves.
With all the difficulties and challenges of the field, Robert J. Vitillo believes that working for a nonprofit is a privilege: “Nonprofits are the Champion’s League because they are serving people. There is a lot more direct contact with people than when you get in a political, governmental, or business situation. And here you have to know how to listen and learn. You should understand that when you are going into it, you don’t have all the answers. The answers come as you work with people who are more experienced in this and are much more resilient and creative than many of us who are privileged. To listen and to learn – this opens an amazing world for you to witness the strength of people.”
In his closing remarks, Sam Potolicchio, Leadership Professor at Georgetown University and the moderator of the discussion, thanked these distinguished people for their enormous efforts, strength and inspiration and said: “One of my arguments about education is that you have to train yourself to get outside of yourself. I think with both of your careers in service, you have done an absolutely majestic job by serving others and getting outside of your own experience to be able to be effective advocates, stewards and healers.”
You can watch the full video of the discussion below (in English).