After fleeing Myanmar as a child, public health graduate inspired to help others
Haythi Ei '20, MPH '23, works in refugee camps and aids survivors of violence
When she was 17, Haythi Ei ’20, MPH ’23, spent three weeks teaching English at a Karen Young Women Leadership School located in a refugee camp bordering Thailand and Myanmar called Mae Ra Moe. The Karen are an ethnic group and one of the first inhabitants of Myanmar, once known as Burma.
Mae Ra Moe was a large camp that housed 12,000 refugees. One of Ei’s fondest memories, the experience also opened her eyes when she saw the cramped conditions the refugees endured. When she learned of the civil war in Myanmar, which has been going on since World War II and has displaced and subjugated Karen people, it sparked her lifelong commitment to bringing care and justice to marginalized populations.
As an undergrad, Ei studied integrative neuroscience. She recalled the moment she knew Binghamton University was her choice.
“I remember clearly when I first came to this campus. The sun was out, the sky was blue and it was so beautiful,” she said. “I remember eating at Buffet Star after the tour, and sitting on the hill looking over the view of the campus. I realized at that moment that I had to come here.”
Although Ei is the first person in her family to pursue medicine, she is not the first to dedicate her life to public wellness. She and her family had to leave Myanmar when she was 9 because of the risks and danger that resulted from her mother’s human rights work against the military regime. They lived a few months moving between different places in Asia before coming to the United States.
“My dad said we were just going abroad for vacation, but it turns out we were never going back. I learned to never have attachment to places where I stay,” she said. “It’s that kind of story of being displaced.”
Between her junior and senior years at Binghamton, Ei once again spent her summer at the border between Thailand and Myanmar. She volunteered for Burma Children Medical Fund, which focuses on populations of marginalized people including displaced groups, those from rural areas and ethnic minorities. These patients usually didn’t have access to or couldn’t afford the medical treatments they needed.
Ei’s volunteer position and Burmese fluency put her in contact with a wide range of tasks, including writing donor reports, annual reports and health reports. She also translated based on need and delivered supplies to areas in conflict zones. Although her experience was cut short due to an accident followed by several surgeries, she continued her internship remotely.
Her passion for uplifting marginalized populations and strong network at Binghamton University led Ei to continue her studies here, joining the Master of Public Health program (MPH), which was started in 2017 and operates as part of Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences and the College of Community and Public Affairs.
As a full-time grad student, Ei became president of the MPH Graduate Student Organization, acting as the liaison between professors and students.
“The good thing about a new program is that there’s always room for improvement and the faculty is small, so you get a chance to be with and get closer to them,” Ei said.
While studying for her degree, Ei also interned for an organization that conducts in-depth qualitative research on conflict-related sexual violence and gender-based violence (as defined by the United Nations) in Myanmar. The violence is committed against the most vulnerable groups, such as poor women, people in rural areas and ethnic women, whose voices are never heard. Ei helped translate, transcribe and research cases of rape by military security forces to determine services needed by survivors, as well as contributed to research about violence in Myanmar.
She recently interned for a new committee at United Health Services that is focusing on workplace violence, aiming to mitigate and reduce workplace violence to almost zero. The project is in its beginning phase and is focusing on data assessment and policy creation. During the internship, Ei shadowed healthcare workers who experienced this type of violence, as well as analyzed the trends and prevalence of workplace violence with data from three major medical facilities in the Southern Tier.
Throughout Ei’s academic journey, Associate Professor of Public Health Miesha Marzell has been right beside her as a mentor and supporter. Marzell, a student government faculty professor, gives Ei the highest praise for both her academic and leadership abilities.
“Haythi is one of the hardest-working graduate students I have had the opportunity to work with. She is a leader inside and outside of the classroom. I have no doubt that Haythi will make a meaningful difference in the communities she will serve,” Marzell said. “Her public health training will take her all over the world, where she will contribute to successful and sustainable health systems. I am excited for and encouraged by her future.”
Ei shared her biggest revelation as a public health student: “Learning about all the factors that contribute to health conditions that affect vulnerable populations has given me an insight into how the world operates. It allows me to see the world more holistically and realize that there are a lot of social determinants for health. It has allowed me to become a more well-rounded person and expands my view of how the world around me lives and operates.”
Once Ei receives her Master of Public Health degree in May 2023, she intends to work at a nonprofit or a hospital in the wellness or administrative sector, where she can continue her focus on human rights.
“I definitely understand the sentiment of having to flee your country, the only place you’ve ever known, to relocate and start over,” Ei said. “That’s why I’m very passionate about promoting the voice of and helping people in marginalized communities, especially immigrants and refugees.”