The smoke from the forest fires is making it difficult for the children to breath. Many of the local inhabitants go in search of equipment to prevent the smoke from entering their homes, in hope of alleviating the burning sensation they are experiencing. A woman is leading the way to the summit of the mountain and away from skyscrapers, the internet and the lights and sounds of the city, which all of us refer to as “development,” to a place that is hot and humid and devoid of what most of us are used to. Nevertheless, her determination is steadfast and focused on something important which we will shortly discover.
“The village that we’re going to visit is called Doi Liam and is located in Maemo sub-district, Maesareang district. There aren’t that many households there. Most of the people there are related and are from the Karen hill tribe. We walk like this every day no matter if it’s rain or shine. Nobody goes there. If we don’t go then, nobody will. There would be nobody to take care of the children,” says Jongjit Chaiwong or “Ms. Toy” from the Mae Hong Son Provincial Special Education Center. The small framed woman who brought us all here is telling us about the background of the place we will soon encounter for the first time.
On the right is a valley and next to it is a big mountain. The place we are going is so isolated and faraway, on the apex of the mountain. Ms. Toy told us that even though the village is not that far, in distance, from the center of Maesareang, the lack of proper roads and trails make it a very arduous journey. This is especially important in the case of an emergency when residents need to go to the hospital. Students in the village also have to walk many kilometers per day to study in the plains. Once we reached the village, a middle-aged woman with a big smile came to greet Ms. Toy. The cartons of milk that Ms. Toy brought were then put into the local woman’s house situated on a hill, the same thing that is done each time Ms. Toy comes to visit.
One small boy approached Ms. Toy, removing the plastic wrapping of a box of milk that the kind teacher and her team brought with her. The little boy tried multiple times to put a straw in his box of milk so that he could drink the sweet milk inside, but he failed each time. The boy’s mother took the box of milk and put the straw it in for him. Pimniga, a five year-old boy who is mentally challenged is the purpose of Ms. Toy’s visit today.
“He’s already five years old, but he can’t do anything by himself. They say that he is crazy. But I told them that my child isn’t crazy, he just thinks slowly and does things slowly. He understands things more slowly. That’s all. I don’t want people to make fun of my boy. Will my boy get better? He’s not crazy, right? Ms. Toy, please help cure him.” Norpoonoi Bualertsatien, the boy’s mother, asked Ms. Toy and her team that came to visit them on this trip.
Statistics from the Quality Learning Foundation reveal that there are up to 160,000 children who reside in isolated and remote regions. Some of these children are autistic, have learning disabilities (LD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some are also mentally challenged, for example suffering from Down syndrome, like Pimniga. Children with such conditions require special support, especially educational opportunities from primary school all the way to more advanced levels of schooling.
The opening of the Learning Center for Handicapped and Disadvantaged Children aims to address the specific issues facing certain children who are handicapped. The Center will help their families as well and teach them how to take care of their children. Schools that want to be involved in this program must put into place a screening process, conduct research and learn how to use appropriate techniques for the supervision of these students. This is the first Center in Thailand and will serve as a model for other schools to follow.
Ms. Toy narrates the rationale for the establishment of this Center with a smile: “We already worked with handicapped children in the past at the Special Education Center in Mae Hong Son Province. Those in the plains have no problems accessing our services, but those in isolated areas and from elevated regions have great difficulties in coming to our Center. Parents and guardians from these faraway regions have to spend a great deal of time travelling to use the services at the Special Education Center. For this reason, many handicapped children have lost the opportunity to learn skills and develop appropriate capabilities. That’s why we decided to set up a new Learning Center for Handicapped and Disadvantaged Children to take care of children who are in these isolated areas so that our services can reach them.”
Dr. Kraiyos Patrawart, research manager for QLF, remarked about his organization’s involvement in this project: “The Quality Learning Foundation sees the importance of Mae Sareang district because the children in the area lack various types of opportunities, especially in regard to education. They must devote a great deal of capital to this endeavor due to village being very isolated and remote from developed parts of the province. In addition, we also discovered that there are many children with learning, physical and mental disabilities. If these children are located and helped early on, they will have opportunities to develop their physical capabilities along with necessary life and learning skills. We also feel that Mae Sareang district is strategically located in the lower part of Mae Hong Son province and has a strong professional network with the Special Education Center in Mae Hong Son Province and the Local Administrative Organization. As a result, we see the importance of taking care of disadvantaged children and believe that this is a good starting point to further develop such programs in this region. We can’t really take credit for supporting the Center. What we did was provide assistance in liaising and integrating the work of various public agencies, the local administrative organizations and the local communities to make it possible to help these children. The successful collaboration of various entities that have come together to help and take care of children in the area can be attributed to a number of local administrative organizations who lent a helping hand to the Center. Fortunately, the handicapped children in the area benefited from all of this and now have the opportunity to be educated in a sustainable manner even after the conclusion of the project.”
The establishment of the Learning Center for Handicapped and Disadvantaged Children was made possible and supported by the District-Chief Officer, Mr. Suebsak Iewvijarn, and various Local Administrative Organizations where the children will have to come for assistance. Initially, the District-Chief Officer Suebasak and the 8 Chief Executives of the Local Administrative Organizations from Mae Sareang district, Sobmay district and Maelanoy district have collected 50,000 Thai Baht for the construction of restrooms for handicapped children for the Learning Center for Handicapped and Disadvantaged Children that will be opened in Ban Gard Subdistrict, Mae Sareang district. In addition, many local administrative organizations have purchased a van to pick up and drop off parents and guardians who come to the Center.
Mr. Indhon Rakchart, Chief Executive of the Subdistrict Administrative Organization at Ban Gard Subdistrict,expressed how he felt to be part of this project: “The Subdistrict Administrative Organization at Ban Gard Subdistrict is delighted with the establishment of the Center in our local area because handicapped and disadvantaged children and their parents and guardians will fully benefit from it. Our children live in very remote regions; thus, they are behind in their development and education. Whatever we can do in the capacity of the Subdistrict Administrative Organization, we will do to the fullest in order to help our children enjoy a better quality of life.”
As for Mr. Suchart Gaengjing, the Chief Executive of the Subdistrict Administrative Organization of Huay Hom Subdistrict, which is one of areas which has sent children to the Center, shared his feelings about participating in this project: “I feel good that such a Center was established to take care of handicapped children, and children from my subdistrict have also benefited from the services provided. As many of us are aware, the region we live in is quite remote and not developed, making it even more difficult to take care of handicapped children. I actually want this Center to be set up right in my subdistrict. Whatever we can do to help, we’re 100% willing to do it because our children and grandchildren are the ones who will benefit fully from the Center.”
Below is a short video : the current situation of the disadvantaged children of Thailand and what are the ways to tackle the issue.