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David Bradley d.bradley at
Fri Mar 19 22:49:15 UTC 1999

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From: "Paul W. Lewis" <pwlewis at>


    I have received an article from the Akha News Service, Maesai, Chiangrai,
    Thailand which accuses me of several things. I would like to reply to
    these accusations, and trust that my reply will receive the same coverage
    as the allegations received.

            REPLY SUMMARY

	    1. ALLEGATION: Paul Lewis had more than 20,000 Akha women from
	            FACT: I helped between 300 and 350 Akha women from Burma
	    an operation they greatly wanted and needed. They were most
	    anxious to
	    have the operation because they could not take care of the
	    children they
	    already had.

	    2. ALLEGATION: The project was done secretly.
        FACT: The program to help tribal families was carried out under
	the auspices of the McCormick Hospital Family Planning Program based
	Chiang Mai, with full authorization from Thai authorities. Citizens of
	Burma regularly come over to Thailand to receive the health assistance
	that is not available there.

	3. ALLEGATION: The women did not know the long term effects on their
	        FACT: A Thai woman doctor trained at Johns Hopkins Medical
	used the latest methods - the same as used in the USA. The long term
	effects for those women would be much the same as women who have the
	operation in this country, with the exception that their living
	conditions are much, much worse.

	4. ALLEGATION: Blood was stolen from these women for resale.
	        FACT: This is the most obscene statement that could possibly
		made, and totally false. Surely such activities would have
	        been found by
		alert authorities in Thailand, who monitored the whole
	        program. A local
		anesthetic was used, and there was an IV drip started well
	        before the
		operation, and continued during, and after the
	        operation. Blood was not
		drawn, except in a few of the early cases to check for
	        malaria. We found
		so many of the women from Burma had malaria that we no longer
	        bothered to
		check, but simply gave a full course of malaria medicine to
	        each woman
		from Burma, as well as to accompanying members of her family,
	        when they
		arrived at the hospital.

		5. ALLEGATION: Of the 20,000 women sterilized more than 3,000
		have died.
		        FACT: Since there were not more than 350 Akha women
		from Burma
		who received the operation, for over 3,000 of them to die is
		impossible, and reveals something of the lengths the author is
		going to
		in order to discredit the program.


		1. "Paul Lewis sterilized more than 20,000 Akha Hill Tribe
		women in
		Burma's Eastern Shan State alone."

       As part of a family planning program I helped to conduct for the
       Lahu, Akha and Lisu tribal groups of Thailand, at their urgent request,
       we began to offer sterilization to those couples who did not want to
       more children. They knew very well that they would not have more
       following the operation - there was full disclosure and full
       consent. It
       was explained to them in their own language, and hundreds of couples
       for help.
               There was fully informed consent in every aspect of the program
       as an anthropologist and as a follower of Jesus Christ this was a top
       priority for me. The local committees which I helped organize to guide
       and oversee the tribal family planning program (one Akha, one Lisu and
       two Lahu committees) decided that only couples with two living children
       should be accepted for sterilization, and then only if they lived near
       medical facilities. For those couples who lived further away from good
       health care centers, they felt we should not sterilize any couple that
       had less than three living children.
               During the early years of the program we provided family
       service for Lahu, Akha and Lisu in Thailand. After we had been
       the program for a year or two, several tribal people from Kengtung
       in Burma (both Lahu and Akha) came to ask if they could receive the
       help, since it was not available in their country, and they were
       desperate. I checked with the Chief Medical Officer in Chiang Rai
       Province and he said, "We do not ask 'Where are you from?', but 'Where
       does it hurt?' Of course they can come. We already serve hundreds of
       patients from Burma every month in the hospitals in Mae Sai and Chiang
       Rai." I knew this to be true, since I was often asked to translate for
       the people from Burma.
               Over the last four years of our seven year six month program we
	       began to accept couples from Burma to receive sterilization. A
       skilled Thai woman doctor, who received her training in sterilization
       Johns Hopkins Medical School, would travel with her team to a modern
       Government hospital in Phayao the last Friday and Saturday of each
       Her brother was the Director of that hospital. She would give
       sterilizations to the tribal women who came from Thailand, and then
       from Burma as well. She always did it in a spirit of love and

       Since all of this happened some 20 years ago I do not have all of the
       figures with me in Claremont, CA, but I do know that in the total
       there were fewer than 3,000 (three thousand) women who received the
       operation as a part of our program. As I recall the number was 2,978.
       There were approximately 64 men who had vasectomies as part of our
       program. [Note: All of the statistical material I produced has been
       turned over to the Akha people in Burma and Thailand. There would also
       some statistics in the Family Planning files of McCormick Hospital, but
       in those figures we did not separate the patients by tribal group or
       place of residence.]

Of the 2,978 sterilizations, about half of them were done in
Chiang Mai. The operations done there were for tribal couples living in
Thailand. We only accepted couples from Burma in the Phayao Hospital, and
later in a Lahu village in Chiang Rai Province which was nearer to tribal
villages (Akha, Lisu and Lahu) and closer to the Burma border. I would
presume that Dr. Arunee Fongsri performed roughly 1,500 sterilizations in
Chiang Rai Province, either using the laparascope or performing
mini-laparotamies. Of those 1,500 cases a little less than half of the
patients were from Burma (roughly 750). If my memory serves me correctly,
about 40% of these would be Akha (that is, about 300 women), 45% were
Lahu, and the other 15% were Lisu, Kachin, Tai Loi, Shan, etc. Just to
make sure I do not understate the total, let me estimate that up to 350
Akha women from Burma received sterilization in our program.
        Logistically speaking it would have been impossible for us to
	perform the number of operations claimed by the Akha Heritage
	Dr. Arunee Fongsri would perform the operation on about 35-40 women
	last Friday and Saturday of each month, ten months out of the
	year. Even
	if all of the women she operated on for a four year period were Akha
	women from Burma, that would still be just 400 women per year, or a
	of approximately 1,600 over that time - much less than the 20,000
	claimed. But they were not the only ones coming. They represented
	40% of the ones who came, although I do recall one trip when the Akha
	women from Burma constituted approximately half of all of those
	the operation. That large a percent of Akha women from Burma did not
	happen very often, however.

	2. "This project was done secretly without the approval of the Burmese
	Government by requiring the women to come into Thailand for the
	. Government leaders in this region of Burma now know about the
	and say that it was illegal in that it did not have Burmese government
	approval or proper documentation that the rights of the women were not
	being violated."

        When people along the border of Burma are sick or need to see a
	doctor, they do not need to get approval from the Burmese government
	seek help in Thailand. At the time of our project family planning was
	virtually illegal in Burma, except for military officers and their
	families. Medical care and medicines were extremely difficult to
	which increased the problems tribal families faced as many couples had
	baby every two years or less. They pleaded with us for help!

	3. The term is used, ".they had little education as to what the long
	effect on their lives would be."

	        We followed up many of the women who had the operation, and
		very good results from the operation itself. The sterilization
		received (whether by the $10,000 laparascope or by the simpler
	        but just
		as effective mini-laparotomy) is the VERY SAME that American
		receive! There was one Lahu woman from Thailand who had a
		following the operation, but this was taken care of before it
		        In the hills of eastern Burma many women die in child
	        birth. I
		know. I have driven many tribal women (Lahu, Akha, Wa) having
		giving birth to a hospital so that their lives could be
	        saved. The long
		term effect of not having the operation was often death!
		        Also, we found that almost all of the women coming
	        from Burma had
		malaria. At first we only gave malaria medicine to those who
	        were having
		an active case. As time went by we changed and gave EACH OF
	        THEM a full
		course of malaria medicine the moment they arrived in Phayao,
	        since most
		of them had it in their system. They were most grateful for
	        this. One
		Lahu woman who had the operation came back about a year later
		her sister for the operation, and said that she had not had a
		attack since we gave her the medicine when she had come for
	        her surgery.
		I should mention here that I was deeply concerned about the
		term effect of all family planning methods. That is one of the
	        reasons I
		worked to receive a Ph.D. in Medical Anthropology from the
	        University of
		Oregon. Also, our program had wonderful backing from McCormick
		in Chiang Mai in all of these matters. The world-renowned
	        family planning
		expert, Dr. Edwin McDaniel, was advisor to the project, and it
	        was their
		program that lent the excellent services of Dr. Arunee Fongsri
	        to us. At
		the time, she had performed over 50,000 sterilizations in
	        Thailand, and
		was very highly thought of by the whole medical
	        establishment. She was
		frequently asked to give papers in family planning conferences
		Thailand and other countries  about her superb program of
	        training others
		to perform this operation.
		        It is true that sometimes there was some scarring
	        following the
		operation - which can happen in this country as well. Also, it
	        is true
		that the diets of the tribal women in Southeast Asia are often
	        very poor,
		and that there are various other things that can cause serious
		among them, but usually these matters are not related to the

		4. "In addition witnesses now verify the rumor that blood was
		simultaneously stolen from these women for resale."

		        This is total fabrication! When women were first
		        coming from
			Burma we thought it might be good to test for malaria,
		        and enough blood
			was taken to cover a slide! When we found that over
		        70% exhibited malaria
			in their blood we did not bother to do that any
		        more. As I mentioned
			above we simply gave every woman a full course of
		        malaria medicine.
			        While we were in Thailand there were wild
		        rumors about people
			going around to steal blood to sell etc. There was
		        never proof of this,
			but lots of fear. We never took blood to sell - or
		        even thought of doing
			so. We did give blood transfusions to a few women who
		        were very weak. I
			remember a Lahu woman from Burma who had almost bled
		        to death during her
			last miscarriage. She was given blood before and after
		        the sterilization,
			as were a few others. We also provided powdered milk
		        for those still
			nursing babies and needing extra nourishment. Believe
		        me, we did
			everything we possibly could to help those families
		        get the very best
			service possible. Twenty years later for a group that
		        calls itself "Akha
			Heritage Foundation" to put a totally blatant lie like
		        this on the
			internet is staggering to say the least!

			5. ". to this day in this region of Burma medical care
			is very difficult
			to come by for the poor."

			        Right! And that is why we paid their travel
			        and even for their
				food for the journey. That is also why we
			        knocked ourselves out to help
				them past this hurdle in their lives, because
			        there was no way a couple
				could continue to feed and care for their
			        children when they were having
				ten children or so before the woman was 35
			        years of age - and we had many
				such cases!

				6. "Of the more than 20,000 who witnesses say
				were sterilized in Burma
				alone, they say that more than 3,000 women

				        To make the statement that over 3,000
				        women died from the
					outpatient operation when there were
				        fewer than 350 Akha women from Burma
					who received that operation stretches
				        the imagination! In 1996 when I was
					attending a conference related to the
				        Hani and Akha in Chiang Mai,
					Thailand, I was confronted by a
				        Westerner charging that the women in
					Burma who were sterilized were in
				        terrible pain from the operation, with
					many of them dying. I checked around
				        with some Akha leaders from Burma
					and Thailand asking if this was
				        true. They were amazed to hear this
					(including one Akha in-law of the
				        Westerner who made the accusation),
					told me it was not true. The wife of
				        one of the men told how as a little
					girl she had been with her mother when
				        she went to the Phayao hospital to
					receive this operation, and how
				        grateful her mother and father were to
					for helping out in this way. Then they
				        asked me where I had heard about
					women being in serious pain. When I
				        told them who said it they laughed
					and said, "It sounds like something he
				        would say!"

					7. ". Paul Lewis claimed that any pain
					related to the surgery was simply

					Tribal women in Southeast Asia have
					lots of pains and problems. I
					remember a Lahu woman who had had
					sterilization coming to our home while
					we still lived in Chiang Mai and
					saying that because of the surgery she
					had a terrible rash on her legs. We
					looked. Sure enough, she had a bad
					rash. We said that it was not due to
					the surgery. "But I never had it
					before the operation, so that must be
					the reason" she said. We took her
					to a hospital and got medicine for
					her, and the rash cleared up.
					If I made a statement to the effect
					that "any pain was simply
					psychosomatic" I'm afraid I did not
					state my own convictions very well.
					Many such pains can be psychosomatic,
					but many of them are the result of
					intestinal worms, cancer, poor diet,
					working much harder than they
					should, adhesions from various causes,
					etc. etc. As far as we could tell,
					within five years after the end of the
					program, there was not one
					fatality that could be considered a
					result of the operation. This may be
					a better record than in some Western

					8. The author calls me a "very
					powerful man", and claims I was giving
					"money under the table from his
					Baptist-related organizations".

					Money sent to the field for work went
					through the Lahu and Akha
					themselves. I did not receive
					it. Actually, none of the money for
					family planning program came from
					Baptist sources, and funds for
					education and development often come
					from Sweden, Germany and other
					countries. I must acknowledge the
					generous funding of the group called
					Family Planning International
					Assistance for supporting the Hill
					Family Planning Program of McCormick
					         For over 40 years I gave my
					life and talent to help these people
					in every way possible, but I always
					worked WITH them, and sought to turn
					over all aspects of the work to them
					as quickly as possible. In regard to
					the family planning program, I turned
					all of that over to the Thai
					Government at the end of our seven and
					a half years of service.

					9. The author speaks of the pastors in
					Christian Akha villages upsetting
					the traditional cultural
					system. (Actually, I do not know where
					the part
					about the "five men" comes from.)
If and when an Akha pastor does that, I am not happy. I firmly
believe in the division of church and state, and in allowing the Akha to
determine the type of culture in which they wish to live. Often, of
course, the pastor is the only person in the village who has had at least
a basic education and can speak Burmese or Thai, so when officials and
others come to the village they may talk with him more than the headman -
which is unfortunate. Anyone who knows what I did in both Burma and
Thailand will know that I pushed for an education for ALL tribal people,
young and old, male and female. I can honestly say that I have not
personally been in any Christian Akha village in either Burma or Thailand
where the headman has been superceded by the pastor. I know there are
some mission groups that tend to bring this type of thing about, but it
certainly is not the Baptist way. I am afraid that the author of these
statements does not really understand either me, or the Akha people.

10. "Paul Lewis, now safely in retirement in Claremont, California, could
not be reached to comment."

There are a number of Akha people living in and near Mae Sai who
could have given the author my address, telephone number and e-mail
address. It would have been the ethical thing to do for the author to
have at least contacted me before spreading these accusations around the
world on the web. Perhaps I could have saved him some embarrassment, if
nothing else.


	          I was born in Denver, Colorado June 30, 1924. In 1946, while
		  attending seminary in Philadelphia, I learned that a "great
		  tribe in the
		  hills of Eastern Burma did not have their language reduced
		  to writing",
		  and I felt that was not fair. It was the Akha people, I
		  later learned.
		  After intensive linguistic training my wife and I went to
		  Burma in the
		  fall of 1947 and were there until April 1966. There we
		  served the Lahu
		  and Akha people under the auspices of the Board of
		  Ministries, American Baptist Churches/USA (with headquarters
		  in Valley
		  Forge, PA).
		  After studying Lahu first and then Akha, I reduced the Akha
		  language to
		  writing in 1950, and began to produce literature. Dr. Frank
		  Laubach, the
		  world-renowned literacy expert, came through Rangoon at that
		  time, so my
		  wife and I took an Akha young man and two Lahu men with us
		  to work with
		  Dr. Laubach in producing Akha and Lahu primers especially
		  designed for
		  adults. Using a pattern Dr. Laubach taught us we also
		  produced readers
		  for new literates  for both tribes.
		          I was asked by the Human Relations  Area File in New
		  Haven to
		  write up my findings concerning the Akha people of Burma, so
		  before we
		  left Burma in 1966 I spent 15 months doing intensive
		  research into their
		  fascinating culture. I produced four volumes entitled
		  "Ethnographic Notes
		  on the Akha of Burma". These were published by HRAF. It will
		  be noted
		  that I sought to include the Akha words for all of their
		  ceremonies and
		  other cultural activities. I wished to help others know and
		  these great people.
We went to serve the Lahu in Thailand in 1968. During our early
years there I taught anthropology one year at the University of Chiang
Mai (I had an MA in anthropology at that time from the University of
Colorado). I also began collecting ethnographic notes on all six tribes
in Thailand, which eventually was useful in writing the book my wife
Elaine and I authored called, "Peoples of the Golden Triangle". It was
published in English, German, French and Thai, and the latter translation
is currently being used in teaching anthropology in Universities in
        I received a Ph.D. in Medical Anthropology at the University of
	Oregon in 1978. Much of my reason for studying in that field was that
		  wanted to do NOTHING to harm the wonderful people I had
		  totally fallen in
		  love with - the Lahu and Akha people of Southeast Asia! My
		  is entitled: "Introducing Family Planning to the Akha People
		  Thailand", and is available on micro-film. I sent my own
		  copy of this
		  dissertation to an Akha Cultural Center in Chiang Mai, which
		  is just now
		  being developed by some Akha leaders in Burma and Thailand.
		          I have produced two Akha dictionaries, the first
		  published by
		  Cornell University, the second (greatly enlarged, and with
		  many Thai
		  terms included) was published in Thailand by the Development
		  Agricultural Project for Akha (DAPA), a development
		  organization which I
		  helped to start, and which was made possible by financial
		  help from
		  Diakonia of Sweden.
		  Besides various books and magazines I helped to produce in
		  Burma, as well
		  as the Akha New Testament and an Akha hymnal, I produced the
		  Akha books in Thailand toward the end of my stay there: Akha
		  Poems and Songs (313 pages); Akha Riddles and Proverbs (113
		  pages); Akha
		  Stories (330 pages); Akha Health Book (131 pages).
		  I must acknowledge the wonderful backing I have had from
		  groups - first and foremost being the International
		  Ministries of
		  American Baptists. They made it possible for my wife and me
		  to share
		  God's infinite love with the people in Southeast Asia, which
		  was always
		  our basic goal. I was far from being a "perfect" missionary,
		  but I
		  appreciate so much the compassionate and creative backing
		  the American
		  Baptists gave to us and our work. Then I must also thank the
		  Lahu and
		  Akha people of both Burma and Thailand who have taught me so
		  wonderful things.

		  My address is:
		          Dr. Paul W. Lewis
			          560 W. 8th St.
				          Claremont, CA 91711

						  My phone number is: (909)

						  My e-mail address uses my
						  initials (pwlewis) with

						  There is also a fax number
						  for the Pilgrim Place
						  community, where I live.

						          That number is:
						          (909) 399-5508 (my
						          name must be
						          included in
						          beginning of the
						          fax, since many
						          people use this

							  Paul W. Lewis
							  March 18, 1999

Forwarded to ELL by David Bradley

David Bradley
Chair, Linguistics
La Trobe University
Bundoora VIC 3083

tel     +61 3 9479 2362
fax     +61 3 9479 1520

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