Adventurers of the Year 2006

Eh Kalu Shwe Oo: People's Provider

As a founding member of the Backpack Health Worker Team, 55-year-old Eh Kalu Shwe Oo recently endured a furtive border crossing from Thailand into Myanmar (formerly Burma) under the noses of hostile military patrols and a weeklong jungle trek ferrying contraband medical supplies to refugees in the area. In early 2006 the Myanmar government launched what Eh Kalu considers the bloodiest offensive in memory against the separatist ethnic groups in the north of the country, including Eh Kalu's own Karen people. With conditions deteriorating (famine, no medical care, and the threat of gunfire and landmines) the 300 members of Eh Kalu's group mobilized as never before, with some members spending up to six months moving nomadically through the jungle, dodging Myanmar troops, and providing health care and education. They are, effectively, the sole support in the region—the only aid to 170,000 internally displaced people along the Thai border. So what keeps Eh Kalu motivated? "I am a Karen," he says. His people need him, and that's all he needs to know.