The situation of the mentally and physically disabled in Bali

We were not surprised to learn that the situation of mentally and physically disabled in Bali is similar to those in Thailand. Sarah Chapman, who is part of the outreach team of the NGO Yayasan Solemen Indonesia, told us some of her experiences, and it sounded pretty much like what we have heard in Thailand.

Karma

The main religion in Bali is Hinduism. The Balinese religion and culture is rich and beautiful: All the temples, ceremonies, sarongs, and flower offerings. It is stunning. Ok, there are also parts of Bali religion, we do not appreciate, like animal offerings.

Just like the Thai Buddhists, the Balinese believe in Karma. Thus, being born with a physical disability means bad Karma, and disabled people are hidden (sometimes locked) away. They are considered a shame for the family

Read this article to learn more about the situation of the disabled in Thailand.

Education

But Karma is not the only reason why people hide their physically, mentally and psychologically disabled family members. There is also a great lack of education about these diseases. Many do not know that psychological illnesses can be treated with medication. People with psychological disorders are often locked away because they are a threat to themselves and to others.

Traditional believes

Further, many Balinese prefer to rely on traditional medication and rituals to treat mental and physical diseases. Even though, one should not underestimate the power of traditional and natural remedies, certain diseases cannot be treated this way.

Infrastructure

Besides Karma and education, another main problem is the health infrastructure. Sick people are often not taken to a doctor or a hospital, because the village is too remote. Sometimes, the village people do not know where exactly the next hospital is, and how to get there. Most of the times, the journey to the hospital is too expensive. The families do not know where to stay close to the hospital, and simply cannot afford to stay away from work for a couple of days.

Solemen does field trips to reach the remote villages, and to help the families bring the ill to a doctor. To read more about Solemen click here.

Being barefoot with Solemen

Sarah Chapman, a nurse in the UK, has travelled through Bali when she came around a young local girl, skinny and sick, in a remote mountain village. The girl, eight years old and 6.4 kilos, was too short and too skinny for her age, and obviously had severe health issues. Sarah knew she had to do something to save the girl’s life. She posted a picture on facebook, asking people what to do.

This is how Sarah met Robert Epstone, the co-founder of Yayasan Solemen Indonesia.

With the help of Robert, the young girl was taken to a hospital, and her health improved. She put on more weight, and was close to the 12 kilos she needed for a life-saving operation, but she passed away before the surgery was done. Sarah still had tears in her eyes when she told us the story, and so did we.

Sarah has now been working for Solemen for over three years, and could give us a very interesting insight into Solemen’s work when we met her in Kuta. Solemen was formed in 2010 with the goal to support the disadvantaged in Bali. Robert declared his intention to be barefoot until Solemen had raised one million US Dollars.  The reason for being barefoot is “to be in solidarity with those who don’t have a choice to wear or not wear shoes,” he says.

Today, Solemen works with 140 children and adults, and mainly supplies medical care for people in the remote areas of Bali. Nearly every day, Sarah and her outreach team are out on the field, taking care of people in need. She told us so many incredible stories, most with happy ends but some without.

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If you want to read more about the situation of the mentally and physically disabled in Bali, click here.

Sarah told us the story of a man who has been living in a cage for two years. The man is mentally ill, and has repeatedly threatened his family and neighbours with a knife in order to get coffee and cigarettes. After people became scared of him, the family decided that there was no other choice, but to put him in a cage. When Solemen found the man, he was barely talking or moving. They took him to a hospital, got rid of the cage and renovated his house. The man now takes medication, and has returned to his home village.

Another sad story with a happy ending are two disabled boys, Komang and Wayan, who have been kept locked away in their house by their families. Their parents told them that they will die, if they leave the house. Solemen found the family in extreme poverty, provided food, clothes and regular therapy for the boys. They also provided customised wheelchairs for the boys, and created a permaculture garden to provide food for the family. The boys now leave the house and are happy to spend time ouside in their wheelchairs.

Solemen works with children and adults with many different kind of diseases. Hydrocephalus, skin diseases, mental and psychological patter. Many of the diseases are treatable, but the lack of education and the difficult access to medial infrastructures in remote areas transform diseases into fatalities.

Sarah is part of the Bali outreach team. Every day, they go into the remote areas, talk to the Banjars (the heads of village) and try to help people that need help. When possible, they are treated on the field, but in many cases it is necessary to transport the patients to hospitals in urban areas.

After the patient has been treated, Solemen tries to keep contact with the people, mainly via phone calls. Sarah said that once the trust is established, it is easier for the patients to ask for help again if they or somebody they know need it.

In the long term, Sarah dreams about a medically equipped car and hope that Solemen will eventually be able to pay a full time doctor. Further, she stresses education in the villages, and a better access to medical care in the remote areas. If you want to support Solemen, you can make a donation to the NGO directly here.

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Visiting disabled persons in Mae Kae

On Tuesday, we have made a trip with Don Willcox and his wife Piranan to Mae Kae where were visited seven disabled persons who might need our help.

On site, we met with Worachai Intakaew who works for Mae Kae’s Community Development Centre which is a governmental structure. According to Don, it is difficult, if not impossible, to work in remote districts without informing and/or working with the local authorities. Don has good experiences working with Worachai and told us he is one of the most trustworthy men he knew.

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When we arrived in Mae Kae, we were surprised to learn that not only Worachai coming with us, but ten of his colleagues were joining to visit the disabled persons. Don explained that this is the way it is in Thailand and that there is no way of preventing the whole community department of joining the trip.

It is good that people get involved and want to help disabled persons, but we had the impression that certain of the government workers care more about taking group pictures than the person in need. We felt a little uncomfortable, invading a person’s house with a group of 15 people.

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Don explained that this is the way things happen in Thailand. We feel that we must accept the Thai way, even if we are not used to such proceedings.

We have to say that Worachai made a very good impression and we are sure that his intentions are good. He is one of the guys who really wants to help. Don took a lot of time to talk to the people we have visited; joking and making them laugh – it was very nice to see.

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We are currently discussing with Worachai how we can help Ms Jun Pirakaew. She is one of the disabled persons we have met Her situation has concerned particularly us. She is a 60 years old lady who is unable to walk after a stroke eight years ago. She and her husband are very poor and life in a small and badly equipped house.

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Despite our partly uneasy feeling during our visit in Mae Kae (due the present crowd of government officials) we want to support Ms Jun Pirakaew, because she really is in need. You will soon hear more about Ms Jun Pirakaew on our website.

Meeting with FFAC in Chiang Mai

As intended we have visited the office of the Foundation Friends For All Children in Chiang Mai. We were warmly welcomed by Gwan and her team.

FFAC currently takes care of five girls: four with mental and/or physical disabilities and one healthy three year old girl which has been adopted by a Belgium couple and which will soon leave FFAC. Gwan and her team take wonderful care of the girls and we were surprised, how good FFAC works on the children’s disabilities in daily life.

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Anong cannot talk, but she can understand everything. In order to facilitate communication in daily life, FFAC has printed pictures of the most important words which Anong can use to communicate. If Anong, for example, wants to drink, she can show the picture of a water glass. Further, Anong has learned to eat by herself and even to do the dishes.

 

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Duanphen has a physical handicap and cannot use her legs, because they are too weak. She is, however, the probably happiest little girl we have ever seen. When we were playing with the girls, Gwan and her team have tried to make Duanphen stretch and use her legs.

 

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The right side of Boonsri’s body is weak, because of an innate brain damage. For Boonsri, too, Gwan and her team has tried to make her use her right arm instead of her left arm.

 

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Hathai is already thirteen and cannot move any part of her body. She needs a wheelchair, is fed and cleaned. When we were playing with the other girls, the team has taken Hathai with us and even though she could not participate in the games, one could see how happy she was about the company.

 

FFAC has a “deal” with one of Chiang Mai’s hospitals and the girls get free therapy twice a week. We could accompany Anong, but we could not make any pictures; only of the facilities. Two young nurses took care of Anong for one hour and tried to encourage her motor functions through playful exercises.

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If you want to learn more about the work of FFAC, you can read our article about FFAC in Bangkok, or visit FFAC’s website.

PS. FFAC is always happy about volunteers which play with the girls, feed and clean them.

 

The names of the children have been changed in this article.

Wheel chairs may not be sexy, but super important – Meeting with Don Willcox

Today we have met Don Willcox of the “Foundation to Encourage the Potential of Disabled Persons.” Don has previously worked with disabled persons in Nepal and has now settles down with this Thai wife Pirana in Borgsan, close to Chiang Mai.

Don and Pirana work with disabled persons and today mainly provide wheel chairs to those who cannot afford to buy one themselves.

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Our meeting with Don was very interesting. He has confirmed what we have learned from Saovanee (we have met her in Bangkok one month ago) that disabled persons are often discredited in Thailand. Many Buddhists believe that a handicap is the “payback” for a bad previous life. Thus, disabled persons “deserve” their faith; supporting them could attract bad karma.

Don told us, for example, that he had problems in the past with his neighbours which felt perturbed by the presence of disabled persons. Main objections, according to Don, came however from the monks and temples. As Saovanee told us previously, monks mostly encourage the donation to temples in order to “improve” one’s karma rather than helping people.

Don himself is a practising Buddhist, but he prefers to stand back from certain Thai customs. He compared the Thai Buddhism to the catholic religion in Europe: Practitioners are often far away from the “real” religious ideas. Don, however, stressed that one should not generalise, there are “veritable” Buddhists here, too.

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When we asked Don on governmental action taken for disabled persons, he responded very critically. Even though the situation improves in Thailand, many disabled persons still have no access to care, education, work or even a dignified life.

Don explained that there is an increasing number of public facilities providing medical and therapeutical care to disabled people, but the people often have no access to these facilities. According to Don the main problem is transportation.

In Thailand it is usual that the grand-parents take care of a disabled child, so the parents can continue working. But the grand-parents themselves often have health issues and/or do not dispose of adapted transportation for the disabled family member(s). Don further told us, that sometimes men abandon their families if a disabled child is born, in order to found a new family with another woman.

Another main problem is the financial governmental support for disabled persons. Even if a disabled person has been trained and could work, he or she are rarely hired – mainly because of the bad image Thai people have of disabled persons. The Thai government grants 500 Baht to each disabled person per month, which is hardly enough for food – and there is accommodation and possibly necessary medication and special equipment which adds on.

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The wheel chairs Don and Piranan supply mostly come from international donors, mainly the US and Australia. Even though the donations come obviously for free and normally there is no additional tax (according to Thai law, donations are exempt from taxes), Don told us that they have a lot of expenses when bringing the wheel chairs from Bangkok Harbour to Chiang Mai. Numerous administrations apparently want to enrich themselves and without paying a bribe, the wheel chairs would never arrive in Chiang Mai.

Don has shown us a couple of wheel chair models he distributes. According to him, the Westerners often think “too complicated.” The wheel chairs are adaptable in many ways what seems practical, but what does not correspond to the needs in Thailand. The technology is too complicated for many recipients. Further, the wheel chairs are more fragile with all the “jan-ken-pon.” Don has told his concerns to the constructors, but no prolific adjustments had been made so far.

Don and Piranan not only supply wheel chairs since 1993, but also medical care, education and moral support to disabled persons in Northern Thailand.

The moral support seems to be an important point. As disabled persons are often disregarded, their self-esteem is low. Don has shown us books – mainly for children – which the foundation distributes in order to show disabled persons that they are just as important and that they have the right to a dignified life.

The meeting with Don was very moving for us. The situation of disabled persons in Thailand is precarious, especially in rural regions. Even though there has been improvement over the last years, many still have no access to necessary care and are socially isolated. Don has told us so much more, but this article is already long enough. If you have any further questions, please contact us or write an email to Don.

Meeting “Friends For All Children Fondation” in Bangkok

Today we met with Saovanee Nilavongse from the Friends For All Children Foundation (FFAC) in Bangkok with two additional centers in Chiang Mai and Nong Kai. FFAC is a private, non-profit organisation which exists since 1977. FFAC’s nurseries provide residential care for children who may need temporary or permanent homes due to family difficulties. Some of the children can return to their parents or relatives, some remain under the care of FFAC until adoptive parents are found.

We have sent an email to Saovanee and she immediately responded to us and invited us to visit one of the nurseries. She is a lovely and very dedicated woman. We talked to her a lot and visited the centre. This kind of transparency is what we expect from a NGO. We have emailed a lot of NGOs, but only a few responded and invited us. This was a first big asset for FFAC! Thank you so much Saovanee for receiving us.

Saovanee told us about the importance of residential children’s care in Thailand. Certain children are abandoned by their parents due to several reasons. Poverty is one of the main reasons. Many parents cannot take care of their children and are forced to give them away. We were particular surprised to learn that in Thailand many children are abandoned due to physical malformation or mental handicap.

Saovanee explained that in the Buddhist religion – which believes in reincarnation – physical or mental handicaps can be often seen as a “punishment” for the previous life. Certain believe that handicapped persons have been “bad persons” previously; helping them could bring bad Karma for you.

Saovanee told us that she has been lucky in the past to receive donations for FFAC. Even though she explained, some times are harder than others (FFAC had, for example, move to a smaller house due to lacking funds for paying the renouset of the bigger h) she has received very generous donations, mainly from foreigners. If you want to contribute, you can make a donation of any amount.

FFAC’s centre in Bangkok currently counts 11 children. Most of them came after their birth and have never experienced anything else than the orphanage. Even though Saovanee and her team take really good care of the children, this will never substitute a family.

If the children cannot go back to their parents, they are giving to adoption after one year. The adoption progress, however, is very long and most children will have to wait two to three years before going with a family. Especially for handicapped children an adoption is difficult and in some cases FFAC takes care of them their whole life.

It was very inspiring meeting FFAC. Unfortunately we will not stay in Bangkok long enough to put together a project helping FFAC, but we will go to the centre in Chiang Mai, where we will stay longer and see if and how Omakua can contribute to FFAC’s amazing work.

We have learned much more about FFAC than displayed in this short article. If you have any further questions about FFAC you can email us or FFAC directly.