Last year, around October, my office and I handed out blankets, first to the elderly and the next day to all of the children with disability. On that day, I was sitting in the van and the ladies began to warn me saying "be careful these kids will hit you, bite you, or scream don't get close." I then ask them, "why?" They respond by telling me that some of them are Autistic. As most of you know, I have worked with Autism in the past and have a special place in my heart for children with Autism. Their statement did not affect me at all. I got out the van with blanket in hand. The first thing i did was run up to her and say "hello" in English and then "sawadee" with a huge smile. The little girl grabbed and squeezed my arm and smiled back. The little girl's mother was in shock but I was not. I simply treated her the way I would want to be treated, no matter circumstance. This stuck with me for a while.
That day I realized that we have a high population of children with disabilities. I began doing my research on what was available for the families as well as the children, within the village, and noticed that there was not much. I spoke with the head of the village public health center and she expressed a need for some activities around Autism.
I was excited and planning. I decided that I would create a monthly meeting in which we would have different activities each visit to assist the family in different ways while creating a network with in this group. This was my hope. The time finally came. I was to go visit each family, we started on my list. The list was children 0-14 with disabilities. All disabilities. My list started with about 15 children; 11 of which were identified as either Autistic or children with Down Syndrome. Throughout the day, I was driven to each house slowly but surely my excitement dwindled because all of the children I met, that one day in October, were all sent to a special school in a much bigger city. After it was all said and done I found my list at a mere 5 children; 3 with Downs ( 2 of which were under 2 years of age), and 2 with physical disabilities.
At this point, I was feeling defeated and disappointed. I decided to continue with my home visits. Basically, I would check in, document progress, and bring different activities to aid in said progress. One kid specifically named Oad.
He cant walk and so he doesn't go to school. He was 11 when we began. I visit him once a week while the other children 1-2 a month. I began doing pretest, attempting to figure out what he could and couldn't do. I was shocked to find that he could barely use his hands to draw a straight line. We began working on little things like drawing, counting, and writing hoping to improve his motor skills as well as his daily living skills.
I wrestled with this because I wasn't sure how sustainable this truly was. Am I really helping him? Will it stop right when I leave. I also realized I was still kind of disappointed by the fact that this was not my original plan. This disappointment was clearly carried into this new plan. I had to accept the hand that was dealt which I eventually did.
Over time, I began to see change. And surprisingly, what I would call sustainability. I remember the day because of the feeling it brought. I biked up to Oad's house and he was sitting smiling, beside him was a handwriting book. He tells me that his mom bought it for him to practice while I am away. First instance of excitement. I could not wrap my head around it. Did she finally see the importance of his education? Did she realize, as I had long ago, that he was not developmentally challenged but simply not being stimulated by anything but the TV? Either way, I was happy to see it. That same day, we were working on adding and subtracting, typically he would ask his mother to help or she would volunteer her assistance. I would try to tell him to work by himself because he is very smart and I know he can do it. On this particular day, as we were working, his mother comes to help and he tells her NOOO I can do it by myself! Although he could have said it in a nicer way he used a smile haha and my day was made.
Through all of the disappointment that came with pre-planning, talking to village leaders, preparing games and activities the blessing that came in seeing Nong Oad yell, " I can do it myself" really changed my perspective in a major way. On a journey such as the Peace Corps, perspective is vital and in this country called Thailand perspective is EVERYTHING. Disappointments happen, they are inevitable; it is the way we handle those disappointments that make the difference.
And since I missed a month here is a little update in the form of a few pics! Love you all and as usually thanks for always supporting me in my journey!
This past weekend we also had our close of service conference! We ate dinner at the ambassadors house in Bangkok! This is my group! group 125 looking amazing as usual! ( also Embassy and PC staff)
My original village group!!! missing Andy because he went to the bathroom! and Jill who is in back home
This is Paula our Director of Programming and Training! she is amazing and she is leaving! this was her last time with us! she will move on to be the DPT in Timor-Leste which will be opening a new Peace Corps site. We will miss her!