More than a decade ago, the late author and movie director U Thu Kha got the idea of providing free funeral services in Myanmar when he was being hospitalized. Alongside him in the hospital was a dying woman who was abandoned by her family who could not afford the cost of her funeral. In collaboration with celebrated film actor and director, U Kyaw Thu, he founded the Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS) – a charity that provides free funeral services in Myanmar to those who are unable to afford it since 2001. The organization has over 500 staff members and a headquarters situated in North Dagon Township in Yangon. To date, FFSS has provided burials for nearly 200,000 people.
“I used to be a victim of drugs and alcohol. Now I came to realize philanthropy is much more addictive than those,” U Kyaw Thu shared. In 2003, he was elected as vice president of FFSS and became president five years later.
In Myanmar, majority of the population cannot afford the cost of basic funeral rites. “In the early 2000s, the funeral costs were so high that in some regions, people were secretly burying bodies in fields, farms, and forests. When the owners of the farms found this, many conflicts occurred,” U Kyaw Thu recalled.
FFSS provides free funeral services daily from 8am to 8pm. On busy days, there can be more than 50 cases. The organization’s core principle is to offer free burial services to all regardless of race, religion, and ethnicity.
Photo From FFSS
Many people in Myanmar believe that the dead and funerals are inauspicious and bring bad luck. But U Kyaw Thu disregarded such beliefs and even took the responsibility of driving the hearses of the deceased. “My friends were shocked that I carried coffins and drove the hearse. Some refused to greet me when I saw them while I was driving the hearse,” he shared.
Apart from free funeral services, the organization also runs Thukha Charity Clinic that provides free medical assistance to over 200 people each day to prevent deaths caused by costly medications.
They also run the Thukha Ah-lin library, and hold free educational vocational training classes.
“I believe that the major reason of all this illness is because of low education levels. That’s why I want to support the education of kids and youths,” U Kyaw Thu explained.
“Two girls from South Dagon who sell betel attended the hospitality training and now they are working at a famous hotel,” he shared.
The organization now has an ambulance team which is composed of 35 members and operates for 24 hours. Moreover, the FFSS recently organized a Fire Force too.
Photo from FFSS
It seems that U Kyaw Thu will never stop doing philanthropic work. He also helps people who are affected by disasters. He and his organization have extended their help in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis and the Pakokku flooding. They have also made attempts at helping villages with no water supply.
The actor-turned-philanthropist has been recognized in the past for his successful career in show business garnering him two Myanmar Academy Awards. As a philanthropist, U Kyaw Thu was presented with the 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Award by President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines.
In spite of all the help that he and his organization is giving, U Kyaw Thu has bigger hopes for Myanmar. “In the future, I want to see Myanmar as a developed country that no longer needs philanthropic organizations,” he said.
A Tiny Request To You
Since you're here, we have a small favor to ask.
The Change Magazine team is doing its best in bringing stories of change and inspiration but we are also constraint by monetary funds. And unlike other magazines and news organisations, we don't charge payment for our readers. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. Our writers and editors are working hard day by day, wanting to bring more stories and news that impacts the lives of the grassroots population and YOU CAN BE OF HELP TOO.
For as little as 1$, you will help spread stories of positive impact to the world, stories that we needed the most these days.