05 March 1998
by Femke Molenaar
My name is Femke Molenaar, I am 26 years old and come from Holland. In October 1998 I left Holland together with my boyfriend for traveling in Asia. This was an experience on its own. This story will be about my experience in Thailand as a volunteer for the Foundation To Encourage The Potentials Of Disabled Persons. After traveling for 7 months my boyfriend and I decided not to return to Holland yet but make ourself useful on a different way. We both have experience with working with disabled people in Holland, so we went looking for organizations in Chiang Mai, Thailand who worked with disabled persons and that is how we came up with this foundation.
The people who organize the foundation are Sunan and Don, Sunan is a Thai lady who is a polio patient and Don is her husband, he original is from America but spend his days in Asia for the past 15 years or so. We found their foundation through their web-page on the internet (www.infothai.com/disabled). The first 4 months we worked on a government school for disabled, we helped the teachers by their classes, it was a nice experience but that is an other story. What I want to tell is about the new project that the foundation started together with us in August 1999.
The foundation had donations to start up the first Disabled information and community centre in the North of Thailand. The goals of this centre is to provide free english and computer classes to the disabled persons in the north, give workshops in the future about different handicrafts and health issue. Also provide a place where disabled can meet each other and feel at home and welcome. Provide information about laws and adjustments for disabled. Give guiding where needed by setting up their own business and let the other Thai population see that being disabled doesn't mean that you are useless. That you are an individual and have qualities. We helped to set up this centre from the planes on paper and in the minds to a centre that is now open for 3 months and already provides english and computer classes to 20 disabled persons.
When we started the first thing that needed to be done, was adjust the building and make it look nice and inviting to outsiders. We spread the word about the english and computer classes among the disabled in the area. With that came the organizing of the classes, interviews with students, making schedules, looking for volunteers and making advertising in the local places for the centre and the classes. Things we did for accomplishing that was making flyers and handing them out in Guesthouses and restaurants and on the markets. Looking for web-page's and volunteer organizations, talking with people and so on. Next to that I became a english teacher, I didn't had any experience in that or in teaching to begin whit. But now I know that everything I know is more than what my students know and everything I can give them is word it. I have 2 classes a day, each class 1 and a half hour and the preparation cost a lot of time to. But I love to do it. Next to that i have set up a time schedule for the classes and until now made a new setting for every month. If there are new volunteers for the english teaching I introduce them with the way of working and the centre and the foundation and its work. So that they can have a nice experience without any problems and their students too.
Next to al these activities we help with organizing other things concern the foundation and his activities. Like contacting other foundations and doing fund raising. All these things I haven't bin doing by my self, I did this in cooperation with the other volunteers of the centre and of course Don and Sunan and Jeng. Jeng is a young Thai man with Muscle dystrophy Duchene. He is the Office manager in the Center "Look what we can Do". I worked very close with him and we both helped eachother with cultural differences and way of thinking. I learned a lot from him about thai culture, believe, society and way of live. I hope the he learned a little from me in the same area. Jeng is the Thai disabled man who became my brother. Thanks Jeng! On this moment I also work on the organizing of a fancy fair in Holland to fund raise money for the centre. This in cooperation with my old work place, in Holland I worked with disabled for 5 years, in a living centre and I got them interested to organize a fancy fair and give support to the centre and the disabled in Thailand, I help with the background information and will give a slide show about Thailand and the position of the disableds here.
I love what I am doing here, not because I want to do good, but because I love the people I work with and hope me being here makes a differents to them as persons. I enjoy every minute that I am here and have mixed feelings about going home on the 27th of January. I have to go back to Holland for different reasons, but I will think back to this part of my life as a happy one with a lot of new friends and a lot of experience that made me grow as a person. And when I am 80 and think back I will smile and feel happy. This is my storey about my work as a volunteer in Chiang Mai Thailand with the foundation to encourage the potentials of disabled persons.