Japanese doctor spreads veggie gardens through rural Myanmar

By RYUTA SOMETAYA/ Staff Writer

While working as a physician at a Japanese university hospital, the injustice that Satoko Nachi felt planted a seed for her true calling in life.

Today, Nachi, 53, is striving to enhance villagers’ health through the planting of vegetable gardens in the Myaungmya district, southwestern Myanmar.

Traveling by car within 12 farm villages in the district, about a five-hour drive from Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, Nachi provides instructions for residents on starting home gardens, which could help alleviate their chronic malnutrition.

In her lectures, which draw about 7,600 attendees annually, she also explains how to reduce mosquito larvae in rainwater collected for drinking and ways to prevent beriberi, or thiamine deficiency.

The ordeal she suffered while working as a physician in Japan before coming to Myanmar led her to her mission in life.

While working at a hospital, Nachi felt suffocated by what she believed was the closed nature of the Japanese hospital system and discrimination against female employees.

When she was 39, Nachi joined international medical aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres as a doctor and was dispatched to Myanmar. Her priorities shifted from working in a state-of-the-art medical system to providing medical services to poor farming communities. Nachi’s own stethoscope was the only thing she could rely on.

Although her income plunged from more than 10 million yen ($92,000) a year to 60,000 yen a month, Nachi felt this is what she wanted to do with her life.

Nachi gradually came to understand the villagers’ medical problems, not only with the lack of hospitals and doctors, but also with the abundance of diseases caused by malnutrition and unhygienic lifestyles.

Four years ago, Nachi established the Myanmar Family Clinic & Garden (MFCG) in Japan on her own. She decided to settle in Myanmar and encourages villagers to start gardens using fertilizers made from readily available rice straw and rice bran in addition to offering traveling clinic services.

Since tomatoes and mushrooms grown in vegetable gardens generate additional income, villagers are increasingly interested in starting them.

Villagers are also likely to prioritize work over their health and often head to the fields even if not feeling well although their daily wages total only about 200 yen. Nachi asks these workers to consider their health with such advice as, “If you get sick, you will lose more money.”

The Myaungmya district is where the mother of Aung San Suu Kyi, a world icon who leads Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, was born.

“The people of Myanmar are expecting a hopeful future for their country. I want to be of assistance to them as a doctor,” Nachi said.

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