Mae Sot is a vibrant border town in northwest Thailand. For decades, displaced Burmese people have sought refuge from one of the longest lasting civil wars in the world.
The UN estimates that there are up to 2.6 million internally displaced. people following the military coup in February 2021 to overthrow the government of Aung San Su Kyi, Thailand has provided safety, and for many, work opportunities. However, children of Burmese migrant families have not always been able to receive adequate access to education or healthcare. In 2011, All You Need is Love (AYNiLUK) linked with local community based organisation BMWEC (Burmese Migrant Workers Education Committee) to provide education for over 3,000 children in the Mae Sot area.
It became clear to AYNiL(UK) that children with disabilities faced additional challenges, and their needs were not being met. Stepping Stones Therapy Project was set up by Scottish physiotherapist, and AYNIL(UK) director, Irene Croal, in an attempt to improve access to therapy and specialised equipment, to enable children with disabilities to reach their full potential.
Stepping Stones now supports around 50 children on an ongoing basis and their families in the Mae Sot area. We feel that there is lots more work to do as there is a substantial need for further provision.
Supported by a board of directors based in Scotland, Stepping Stones has been able to periodically employ paediatric phsyiotherapists on a full-time basis, based in Mae Sot.
These have included Hannah Pickard and Catherine Lomas, two very experienced childrens physios from the UK. Hannah, originally from Canada, has worked extensively in child development clinics and hospitals, including Great Ormond Street. Cath previously worked in east London, and has also worked with children with disabilities for many years. Both have worked in professional voluntary and development roles across Asia. Hannah and Cath both joined our charity as directors following their years of working in Mae Sot.
We could not continue our work without building expertise locally and we have trained several trainees, some of who have gone on to work in other roles with disabled children. Since 2017, we have employed Yin Yin Aye, who is now a very experienced therapy support worker, able to continue with childrens therapy programmes and solve problems on the ground as they arise. When there are UK based therapists in Mae Sot, we lean heavily on Yin Yin Aye to be our interpreter and to navigate us around the sprawling urban and rural communities.
Director/ physio Hannah Pickard; with therapy support worker Four Star delivering Rifton Gait trainer
Founding directors, Irene and Alan Croal
Visiting director/ occupational therapist, Christine Owen working with one of our younger children
Directors/ physios Hannah Pickard and Cath Lomas
Directors/physiotherapists Irene Croal, Cath Lomas; therapy support worker Yin Yin Aye.
What we do
All of the children and young people who we work with are from the Burmese migrant population, displaced by decades of civil unrest in neighbouring Myanmar.
All live in sub-standard and basic accommodation with limited access to clean water, electricity and many lack adequate food. Harsh economic realities have often split families apart and education, even if locally available, will not have been considered an option for most disabled children. The focus of the Stepping Stones project is towards providing physiotherapy for children with lifelong disabling conditions such as Cerebral Palsy. Our aim is to meaningfully impact on the wellbeing of the children with whom we work and to be able to commit to long term and direct therapeutic interventions.
All of the children we help live within the Mae Sot district, aged from birth to young adulthood. Most live with a parent or extended family, though a few live in care. Stepping Stones started in 2013 and prior to our involvement, none had received any help from therapists, nor had their families even heard of the concept. However, things have improved a little since then in that respect and some can now access physio from other routes e.g from the Mae Tao clinic and there are occasionally visiting therapists linked to other organisations. But still, there is a huge unmet need.
For everyone, therapy is about achieving realistic goals and improving the quality of a child,s life. and for some, progress can be rapid and truly life-changing.
The beautiful border area between Thailand and Myanmar, just 8km from the centre of Mae Sot.