• Anushma Shrestha | Media and Communications Officer
  • Dhanabara Kohkaew | Media and Communications Assistant

Nestled amidst the rolling hills of Mae Sot, lies a small village which is home to nearly 30 migrant workers from Myanmar.  

At the heart of this village stands Mae Luang*, a name which here means “the Great Mother” in a northern Thai dialect, a remarkable migrant woman who wears many hats: a community leader, an agricultural worker, a midwife, a mother and a tireless advocate for her fellow migrants. 

Originally hailing from Bago, Myanmar, Mae Luang began her career as a midwife.  

“I was making little to no money as a midwife,” Mae Luang recounts. “But it was something that brought me greater purpose – solely driven by my passion for helping other women give birth safely.” 

Life took an unexpected turn for Mae Luang when she lost her husband. Shouldered with the responsibility of having to raise their two sons alone, she moved to Thailand seeking employment in 1998. 

“My close friends encouraged me to find a job in Thailand, saying the wage would be much higher. I took a little of what I had saved, which was only enough to take my elder son with me. I had no choice but to leave my younger son behind with relatives.” 

Mae Luang soon found a job at an agricultural farm growing cabbages and has been working there ever since.  

She supports and dreams of a brighter future for both her sons, one of whom has landed a job on the farm, whereas the other receives regular remittances to pursue his education in Myanmar. 

Her passion for helping women has persisted. Realizing the lack of proper healthcare services in her new village, with residents having to travel long distances to get to the nearest hospital, she restarted her midwifery practice. 

IOM assists migrant women register birth certificate for their newborns, access health insurance and provides essential packages including diapers and food. IOM 2023/Dhanabara KOHKAEW

While assisting mothers in her village, Mae Luang recognized ensuring their access to proper medication and treatment would be essential for their health and recovery. She then started volunteering at a health clinic in Mae Sot as a midwife. 

“My goal was to establish a link between the needs of women in my village and hospital services that could offer healthcare and safe birth - significantly improving their recovery and well-being," she explains. 

“I would use the stipend received from volunteering to buy medications and essential items for the villagers, including mothers and their newborn child.” 

Through her work at the clinic, she started forging connections that extend beyond the clinic walls. She worked with civil societies and non-profit organizations to help most vulnerable migrants.

“Many individuals lack basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter. I help connect them with healthcare services, and even buy essentials.”

Recognizing the growing needs of vulnerable migrants in Mae Luang’s village, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) organized a distribution, providing them with essential relief items.  

IOM assesses the needs of vulnerable migrants and organizes distribution to provide relief assistance in coordination with local partners. IOM 2023/Ploy PHUTPHENG

“Together with community volunteers like Mae Luang, IOM is providing direct assistance to vulnerable migrants across Thailand to help meet their immediate needs – including food, clothing, hygiene kits, health and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS),” explains Geraldine Ansart, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Thailand. 

During distribution of health items, IOM’s health staff also conducted health information sessions to equip migrants with accurate information on accessing treatment and healthcare services.  

“This timely assistance helped to alleviate struggles and financial burden for many migrants in my village, allowing them to focus on improving their well-being and getting back on their feet,” shares Mae Luang.

Migrant leaders and volunteers support IOM reaching hard-to-reach communities with accurate information and assistance. IOM 2023/Andrea Empamano FRANCESCA

"Mae Luang serves as a powerful example of compassion in building resilient communities,” adds Ansart. “Community leaders and volunteers like Mae Luang play a crucial role in helping IOM reach those most vulnerable and empowering migrants while in Thailand.” 

On International Women’s Day, IOM celebrates the contribution of Mae Luang and countless other migrant women community leaders and volunteers, who act as frontline drivers in keeping their communities well-informed and connecting them with essential support services, especially in times of crisis. 


IOM’s assistance to vulnerable migrants in Thailand was made through the support from Government of Japan. 

This story was written by Anushma Shrestha and Dhanabara Kohkaew from IOM Thailand Media and Communications team.