Weerapon Johnburom and Boonyanut Chompaen talk about their experience with Special Olympics in Thailand:
Today, we have witnessed how the efforts and empowerment of Special Olympics Thailand, in co-operation with Thailand’s Special Education Centres, have paid off for the children with intellectual disabilities through Young Athletes. At one level, the pay-off is the physical and intellectual improvements among the kids after going through a variety of well-designed development programmes that we witnessed during the home visits. Beneath this, the work also pays off in the form of hope and strength of the families, that can only be felt in our hearts.
Our journey today was scheduled for two home visits at the houses of two kids we met yesterday. First, the van took us to the wild orchards in an area a bit far out of town. Then, we started to see a small racked wooden house hidden behind a lot of trees. Kongpob Yangkam, a six-year-old cute boy who has an intellectual disability, was playing in a play-based station. He was taken care of by his elderly grandparents and his 17-year-old sister, who had to leave school behind to take on the duty of his care.
Kongpob used to study in an inclusive school when he was four years old but the teachers found it hard to keep him at the same pace as other classmates and they didn’t have time to give special treatments for him alone. Leaving school was the only option for him at that stage.
Fortunately enough, his sister took him to the Pitsanulok Special Education Centre, where he received training with the physical play-based therapies of Young Athletes for the first time. His drastic developments do not only benefit him as a person, but also his family who now have more time to work for sustaining their lives. From being kept in the house due to his hyperactive actions, he now has more concentration and calmness when doing things. His speaking skills have also improved from using scattered words to more complete sentences. He has more patience, better listening skills and even offers to help with house chores.
While Kongpob’s house is a bit isolated from others, we also visited Paiboon Sribubpha or Pai’s family, where they displayed a strong relationship with the community. Pai’s DIY playground is a strategic magnet to bring along the kids living nearby to play with him. Pai’s dad learned about the play-based stations at the centre and built the equipment by himself with cheap and local materials that he could find. Such a self-starter we really appreciate!
Sometimes Pai’s behaviour towards the other children is inappropriate, and he sometimes hits out.”. When the other children were asked if they have ever got angry with Pai, they shook their heads immediately. Being raised up together in the same village, they realize Pai is different yet valued and respected.
Apart from intellectual disabilities, Pai experienced heart problems after birth. From needing to go to the doctor very often, he is now not required to go for check-ups anymore, after participating in play-based development activities. The good news is the fact that he gradually continues to develop at his own pace, as his parents want.
To be honest, we expected to see the sad faces of the families at the home visits today. Contrastingly, there was not a single sad face, mourning or complaint from either family. The parents smiled wider and laughed even louder than us. They are very positive and hopeful about their situations. Yet their highest hope is very simple: they hope that their children will grow up as adults who can take care of themselves. Outsiders might think “disability” is limitation but these families have proved to us that it is an opportunity to get stronger and stronger.
Last but not least, it is the first time we realized that the persons with disabilities are EQUAL to us all. They have the same rights and capabilities to shine in their own way. Opening up and sincerely welcoming them into our world is the easiest thing—we can help empower them, encouraging them to stand on their own feet with pride.
As one of the teachers from the Special Education Centre told us while walking back to the van: “No worries. I have high hope in them.”
Let hope guide us there!