Thailand: "When I trip, my friends pick me up"


The first thing you notice about Hae Tar, 9, is the sparkle in her dark, smiling eyes. Whether she’s cooking leaves in a pretend kitchen with her friends or playing outside, her contagious laugh follows wherever she goes, even despite the pain her favorite game of hopscotch brings her. One of Hae Tar’s legs is bent outward, making it difficult for her to put weight on it.

Walking is a real challenge for Hae Tar, especially going up the steep slopes in the refugee camp in Thailand where she lives. The path to her home is also full of obstacles. To get to her bamboo stilt house, she needs to jump over a four foot wide trench, which would prove a feat for any nine-year-old. But Hae Tar is used to it, she’s never known anything different. She was barely one when her family fled Myanmar.

“Hae Tar sometimes forgets she has a disability,” her 16 year-old-sister Naw Gray Poe explains. Naw Gray Poe accompanies Hae Tar to the Handicap International rehabilitation center and monitors her progress. “It’s a good thing that she exercises, but I often worry she’ll fall down. Especially in the rainy season, when the camp gets flooded and the paths turn into a slippery and dangerous track.”

Hae Tar just shrugs her shoulders and smiles: "When I trip, my friends pick me up." She has friends who accept her for who she is and who wait for her when she slowly surmounts the bumpy paths of the refugee camp. Unfortunately, Hae Tar isn't able to do everything her friends are able to do.

As accepting as her friends are, they make it clear she isn't able to play soccer with the rest of them. Hae Tar then goes and plays jacks on her own. This happens more often than Hae Tar cares to count. But she refuses to be lonely. While the other children play, she takes extra English lessons. "I want to be a teacher. I’m already in the third grade," she says in English. 

But thanks to Handicap International's new partnership with the IKEA Foundation, Hae Tar will soon have a new playground at her camp, where she can be included in playing with her friends. 

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. Much of their exercise is done 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 developmental 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.