In 2001 I went to Thailand for six weeks with a UK based charity to aid two children’s charities in Thailand. In this trip some of my time was spent in the Government orphanage called ‘Bann Fueng Fah’, a home for children babies with disabilities. I volunteered with a charity there who had day care centres. On this short volunteering visit of 2 weeks i met the children with cerebral palsy and they gripped my heart greatly.
I returned to that same charity in 2004 and was able to work with one of their staff on the ward for the children who had cerebral palsy. Despite their many difficulties their characters gripped me, and my experience of working there day to day, led me to stay for a year. The children’s personalities engaged me and working there left me with a lasting impression and a desire to see change for the children. This seemed to be God inspired because while still there, the passion for them turned into a uncertain but forming plan.
I was a fully trained Nursery Nurse with some years of experience but had limited specialist training in disability. I had a previous knowledge of a UK 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 went and did the course to be a trained portage worker and started to set-up 1Step2Step with the help of people from my home church and a team of friends who were able to capture the dream.
The children who have disabilities that this project strives to help have moved to the orphanage from families who do not feel able to care for them. We aim to be an advocate for those children who are 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. This, sadly, makes them seem even less able, at a point when the orphanage is assessing their abilities, leading to some being labelled profoundly disabled because in their grief they have shut down and are not responding.
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 in close formation, cared for by six nannies, was hard to take in; the opportunities for play and interaction were so low in priority, with feeding, dressing and changing of nappies as the main and only aims for the group, it took me aback. I noticed that if you connect with one or two of the children, you were less overwhelmed and find they have a captivating nature and a great sense of humour. Once you connected with a small number you saw the sparkle in their eyes and and see the personality bubble to overflow.
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. We work to help others see their worth and aid the care staff to strive to help the children develop.