See the children before their disabilities

It was 9am local time in Jakarta and we were ready to hit the road. The humidity and the overcrowded scooters reminded me of Taipei City, where I come from. The noise from the street and the street vendors also reminded me of one of the cities I have visited, Bangkok. Our journey had begun, and right now I had mixed feelings about this trip—excited while uneasy at the same time.

Street view. On our way.
Street view. On our way – by David Yen

Thirty minutes later, we arrived in the central office of Save the Children in Indonesia. We were briefed about the organization and some projects it is currently working on.

Briefing in the Save the Children office - by David Yeh
Briefing in the Save the Children office – by David Yen

When it comes to the project for children with disabilities, we learned that it is a shared responsibility between families, schools and the government. “The most challenging part of our project is that parents of children with a disability tend to feel ashamed of their children’s situation. Many of the children are hidden at home and never have a chance to get an education,” said Tata Sudrajat, a Save the Children programme manager. Children with disabilities are among the most marginalized population in Indonesia as communities reject them. “It is really hard to change the mentality and mindset.”

After the briefing, we hopped on the bus again and headed to our first destination, a community-based rehabilitation project at Cibiru Wetan village in Bandung, which is 3+ hours away from Jakarta by car.

The road got smaller as we got closer to the village in the mountains. There were a few lightning bolts running through sky. For some reason, I started to feel a bit nervous about what I was going to see.

Getting closer to the village - by David Yeh
Getting closer to the village – by David Yen

We finally arrived.

It was proved that my worry was nonsense. We were warmly greeted with big smiles and handholding. For a moment, I actually only saw the children and their smiling faces. I had no idea what their disabilities really were. After interacting with the children, I then discovered what their disabilities might be. This experience reminded me of my earlier reading from UNICEF: “See the Children—Before Their Disabilities.” Now I know what it exactly means.

A boy with one arm trains with a yoga ball - by David Yeh
A boy with one arm trains with a yoga ball – by David Yen

The centre was established more than a year ago and is now equipped with some simple facilities and training tools. The problem we saw, however, is the place is not spacious enough for all the children and parents in need. “We are looking for a bigger and more proper place,” said the head of village.

The resource is limited. They have ten teachers in total in this village to teach more than 200 children. They may encounter three or four children with disabilities in one class, but none of those teachers have skills to teach them. There are 63 children with disabilities in the village and they all live around the centre. There’s only one licensed therapist and five community workers working in the center. “We need to work on the teachers’ access to special education,” one community worker said.

A girl in training - by David Yeh
A girl in training – by David Yen

The highlight of the visit was that we had so much fun with families and children when we took Polaroid with Polaroid together. We hoped that we could leave something memorable for them as they were so memorable to us.

Girls holding a Polaroid photo - by David Yeh
Girls holding a Polaroid photo – by David Yen

Even though I came to realize they are living with disabilities, when I played with the children again, I still only saw the children, not their disabilities.

We should focus on what the children with disabilities can do, not what they cannot achieve.

    Ting Liao