In 2002 I went to Thailand for six weeks with Tearfund. Part of my time there was spent working as a volunteer in Bang Fuang Farr, Thailand’s only government run orphanage for children with special needs, helping children with cerebral palsy.
Despite their many difficulties their characters gripped me, and my experience of working there day to day, led me to return for a year in 2004. Again their character and personalities engaged me and working there left me with a lasting impression and a desire to see change for the children.
I had previously had some knowledge of a training technique called Portage, by which children with special needs can be helped to develop their full potential in small stages; one step at a time. On my return to England I started to set-up 1Step2Step.
The children this project strives to help are abandoned or disabled children whose families cannot care for them. We aim to be an advocate for those longing to show their real character within their disabled body. As with many people with physical disabilities, it’s often forgotten that inside is a person who feels, thinks and loves, but who is often ignored because they struggle to interact in the same way as those who are able-bodied. Sadly many go into emotional shut down just to get through the trauma of being abandoned and the shock of the institutionalised care, often so different to the home life they may have known before.
With cerebral palsy affecting their bodies and depression affecting them emotionally you would think the children would give up, but this is not the case with this amazing group.
Seeing this group of over seventy children, back in 2004, in one big room lying on mats, cared for by six busy staff, you are taken aback. There was hardly any opportunity to play or interact because the basic needs of the children take all the carers’ time. The need for play and learning had to come as a lower priority. However if you focus in on each individual child and see some with a sparkle in their eye, you connect with one or two and find they have a captivating nature and a great sense of humour.
We at 1Step2Step wish to connect with these children and help them reach their full potential. This could be through directed play, which teaches them new skills like feeding e.g. by playing games that improve spoon control for example. It’s well known that children learn through play, and 1Step2Step aims to give the children that time for individual attention.
As you mix with the children your heart is gripped and you know you will never forget them. It breaks your heart to think these children will live in this room without families, schooling or the chance to develop into citizens living in the ‘Land of Smiles’.
At 1Step2Step we believe that these children deserve more. Each of them has a life to enjoy just as much as you or I. We think they should have the opportunity to learn, develop, experience and live happy lives. They have the resiliency and determination to succeed when encouraged and supported. 1Step2Step aims to give these children their childhood and hope for the future.