Steps for a greater cause in Mae Sot

In Mae Sot, Handicap International (HI) provides assistance mainly to children with disabilities. Although there are many NGOs (around 14) that exist in Mae Sot, HI is the only NGO which focuses on supporting children with disabilities.

Handicap International Thailand (left), IWitness team, IKEA Foundation (right) and Handicap International Indonesia (below right). By Mahargian Maulidi.

Eight of us departed from Bangkok that day. Six people were IWitnesses from different divisions at IKEA Indonesia. We met Chris Williams (IKEA Foundation Communication Manager) and Anggiasari Puji (HI Indonesia) in Bangkok the day before. We were excited to start the trip soon.

It was raining very hard in Bangkok on 2 October and we felt a bit nervous before the flight. The plane departed on time at 14.30 and arrived at Mae Sot Airport at 15.47. There was some turbulence during the flight, however we landed safely in Mae Sot.

Arriving at Mae Sot Airport, the weather was nice and welcoming. Alex (HI Manager for Growing Together) picked us up with three 4×4 cars that belong to HI. It was a great welcoming gesture from HI; we were very excited and felt safe right away.

We drove through the city and went straight to the HI office in Mae Sot. There, we were greeted by Almedina (HI Country Manager), who was very nice and warm. We had introduction session where Almedina shared information with us on HI activities in Thailand. After the session with Almedina, she and Alex took us for a walk around the office. We were introduced to HI staff, who have mostly been working there for years. We are amazed with how much HI has done so far and with all the future plans that are still coming.

After the session with HI, we went to the hotel and at 19.00 we had dinner together with Alex. At the hotel we met Wendy Huyghe (HI Communications for Growing Together) and Lucas Veuve (HI Photographer) and we had nice dinner in a Thai restaurant, which provided great food.

GROWING TOGETHER project. By Sylvania Octaria Sinulingga.

HI has been in Mae Sot, Thailand for 35 years now. Starting its operation in 1982, from two French doctors, HI had the first establishment in Thailand to assist Cambodian refugees.

In 1984, the organisation extended its support to the Karen refugees who fled from Myanmar due to long-running conflicts. In search for peace and chance to live, they left Myanmar and looked for better chances in Thailand.

The Thai government accepted the presence of the Karen people and has housed them in temporary shelters in several locations along the border between Myanmar and Thailand. But there is restricted mobility applied to Karen people, as they are not allowed to go outside the camp except in special cases, when they have a reference or recommendation from the NGOs.

There are nine refugee camps operating along the border. The furthest camp takes eight hours on road by car from Mae Sot (HI Thailand head office).

Why Handicap International?

Out of the many NGOs operating in Mae Sot, only HI is facilitating assistance to children with disabilities. The mission of the IKEA Foundation is to create change by funding a programme that addresses children’s fundamental needs: home, health, education and a sustainable family income.

In line with their mission, the IKEA Foundation supports HI, which now is working to provide Early Childhood Development opportunities to children with disabilities and other vulnerable children in camps for refugees and internally displaced people. HI is making sure that children will get the access to the very thing they need: the right to play!

HI has improved the quality of life of the children by rehabilitation, mine risk education and disability social inclusion.

And now, since 2016 with the support from the IKEA Foundation, the Growing Together project will develop an accessible and secure environment for children in refugee camps in Bangladesh, Thailand and Pakistan.

One important fact that I took during this meeting with HI: years ago, many people became disabled due to impact of land mines. Today, children have disabilities due to malnutrition and live in environments where sanitary conditions, foods and water are at a very low level. This is where HI’s presence is important to children in the camp. HI can improve the quality of life for children with disabilities.

I personally hope that the Growing Together project will come as a very succesful project and realized impact. I foresee that children with disabilities will be smiling and happy, as they feel there is a lot more that they can do in life than before.

Handicap International vehicle. By Mahargian Maulidi.

Handicap International vehicles were funded by the Let’s Play for Change campaign