David Downham's Thoughts On Volunteering


Dr. David Downham, a retired urologist and Catherine Downham, a retired teacher, living in Washago, Ontario, Canada founded Project Umbrella Burma. Project Umbrella Burma became a Canadian registered charitable organization on September 19, 2003.

While visiting a journalist friend in Thailand in 1999, Cathy and David were taken north to Mae Sot to meet Dr. Cynthia Maung who received the Canadian John Humphrey Freedom Award that year. They were shaken by what they saw. In 2001 David and Cathy, unable to forget the situation they had witnessed on the Border, connected with Dr Cynthia's Mae Tao Clinic and made plans to commit to three months helping there.

In March of 2002 they visited a hostel in Mae Lah Refugee Camp and met Saw Kshakalu, and the 40 children he was trying to help. Saw Kshakalu and the young students had begun building a hostel for boys and were working on the girls' dormitory at the time. The student's parents had brought them to Kshakalu for protection and for the chance to get an education. Most came from the Thaton area 5-6 days walk from the border. These children were malnourished, susceptible to diseases and scantily clothed and sheltered. At that time there were 40 young people working together caring for each other while attempting to get an education in the schools established in the refugee camp. Cathy and David took on the support of the Kaw Tha Blay Hostel (beyond the support given by the camp) providing more and better food, clothing, buildings, light: a home, warmth and security while they pursued their studies. Over the years, the numbers reached up to 70 children. In 2007, PUB started a learning centre as an opportunity for the hostel students to continue studying after grade ten.

David and Cathy have since then spent 6-8 months each year in Thailand participating in Dr. Cynthia's Mae Tao Clinic, and in the development of the hostel and college and their projects, which are cared for year round by Saw Kshakalu.

Each year, in the late Canadian spring they return to their family, friends and home in Orillia Ontario and continue working with the PUB Board to raise awareness and funds until mid autumn.

Read more about PUB's history and current work.