One day a young man named Maung Shaw Loo graduated in Medicine. Sure, there would have been thousands who accomplished the same milestone. What makes this spectacular for Maung Shaw Loo, is that this happened in 1864 in Pennsylvania, USA and, he was Burmese. Maung Shaw Loo has succeeded to be the first Burmese doctor.
Born to parents U Shwe Thet and Dwa Phwar in 1839, Shaw Loo was the eldest of his brood. His family lived in Mawlamyine, a Mon state. He grew up with a thirst for knowledge especially in medicine. As a young boy, he befriended a Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson. His parents were one of the first converts by Judson during the time British-Burma. His father worked with British soldiers whenever they need a translator and at the same time a tutor for them to learn the Burmese language. Shaw Loo’s association with Judson has largely influenced his ambition to help his people. Then one time, Judson got sick and had to travel to India for treatment as there was no physician in Burma at that time. Adoniram Judson died along the way and did not make it to India. This news saddened Shaw Loo and spurred his desire to help and improve Burma.
Shaw Loo was 15 years old when he decided to leave Burma and went to Calcutta, India to advance his study. He stayed there for several months but has grown restive because of the unrest that was happening between India and the British soldiers that were stationed in Calcutta that time. It was the same thing back in Burma and Shaw Loo knew he can’t go back there until things have quieted down. Shaw Loo in a daring plan stowed away in a vessel that would bring him to America.
Aboard the ship, he met a lady and soon became fast friends. Shaw Loo told her about his hopes and dreams of becoming a doctor. She soon brought him to the ship’s captain and Shaw Loo paid for his boat fare by becoming one of the ship’s cabin boys. The boat sailed for 4 months before reaching the shores of America. Using his instincts for survival, Shaw Loo quickly adapted to his new surroundings and found his way to the University of Lewisberg. There are several versions of this part of Shaw Loo’s history. Some records say that a nun has helped him enrol in the university; others say that Shaw Loo’s association with Judson who was a Baptist missionary has had him connected to the University’s Board of Trustees and has agreed to help him out in his education by remitting a large portion of his tuition fees.
Maung Shaw Loo’s friendly nature has gained him entry to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, attended socializations in the university and was generally welcomed by its community. He earned his spending money by tending the garden of a certain professor by the name of Dr. Thomas Curtis who taught in the same school. Shaw Loo was frequently asked to share his culture and Burmese traditions and customs by the residents of the University.
In 1864, Shaw Loo finally graduated from the university. He was admitted to the newly established Charity Hospital Medical College in Cleveland, Ohio where he finally obtained his medical degree in 1867. Shaw Loo thought it was time for him to return and fulfil his promise to his homeland. He went to visit England and France before returning home and visited then US President Andrew Johnson who gave Shaw Loo an excellent letter of recommendation that he would later present to King Mindon of Burma.
It was in 1868 that Shaw Loo set his foot back home to realize his dream of helping his countrymen. The next ten years would witness Shaw Loo assisting Dr. Ellen Mitchell at the Mission Hospital in Mawlamyine. The Burmese government later on appointed him as Science master at the State High School in Rangoon. He was given the position of medical Adviser and became one of its administrators. Recognising his efforts, the Burmese government made Dr. Maung Shaw Loo the Inspector of Schools for Science a special position that enabled him to visit all high schools in Burma.
Dr. Maung Shaw Loo showed the indomitable spirit of a Burmese; dreaming big and overcoming the challenges. He died October 10, 1929, a revered Burmese physician and educator.