“Julia has no friends," Sue Mite Tar says of her eight-year-old daughter. "Other children don’t like to play with her because she’s too slow."
Sue watches her daughter play a fishing game, while chatting with Handicap International staff. "This rehabilitation center is the only place where Julia can play, be herself, and feel relaxed,” Sue says. Julia is extremely concentrated, but gives her mother a big smile when she manages to catch a fish.
When Julia was eight months old, she was diagnosed with Thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder that results in slow growth and an abnormal bone structure. For Julia, it was the beginning of a series of monthly blood tests. Her walking pattern is disturbed and she moves slowly.
“We fled Myanmar nine years ago, just before Julia was born," Sue explains. "I was completely upset and horrified by the idea of living in a refugee camp, but now I’m relieved we are here. Julia would never have had rehabilitation services of this quality in Myanmar. So now, we’re making the best of it. I do some sewing to earn an income.”
But Julia still needs some friends. Thanks to Handicap International's new partnership with the IKEA Foundation, we'll soon have a new playground at the 40,000-person camp, and more opportunities for Julia to connect with other children.
Life as a refugee child
Today, children with disabilities in the refugee camps can visit Handicap International’s center for rehabilitation services. Parents, family, and friends of each child are trained in rehabilitation exercises and care to ensure that progress isn't lost between sessions. Many of the exercises are doing through play.
Other children in the camp are extremely vulnerable for other reasons. They are malnourished, in poor health, orphaned, or coming from traumatic backgrounds, and sometimes they are kept at home. Growing up in a refugee camp is already incredibly difficult, especially if you’re a child with a disability. That’s why we’ve started a new project–Growing Together–that gives displaced children the right to be a child.
Growing Together project
Growing Together is a four-year project in Thailand, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and is funded by the IKEA Foundation. Handicap International is creating inclusive spaces where children can come together–through play–to work through some of the challenges they face, especially children with disabilities. In addition to inclusive playgrounds, Growing Together will target the youngest children who are at risk of development problems. Simultaneously, the program will engage local child development service providers and help them become more responsive to the needs of boys and girls with disabilities and other vulnerable children. Learn more about the partnership.
Handicap International in Thailand
Since 1984, Handicap International has worked along the border with Myanmar. The main activities are fitting refugees with locally-produced prostheses, rehabilitation services, empowering people with disabilities and social inclusion in local communities, and the prevention of mine accidents through risk education. Learn more about our work in Thailand.