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Hannah's Experience - Part 1

From left to right: Irene, Hannah, and Yin-Yin Aye

Our outgoing Physio, Hannah Pickard, shares her experiences in a series of short blogs. This first part shows just how much Hannah has done during her time with us. We can't thank Hannah enough for the her commitment to the Stepping Stones Project; she has been an invaluable member of our project, who has helped us grow so much over the past year. We hope these blogs will help show how much of a difference one person can really make in a local community and for so many families. We will miss her but wish her the best of luck with her next endeavour!

I’m not going to lie, when Irene asked me to start compiling a short blog on my final days in Mae Sot, I really thought ‘how am I going to share all of my experiences in such a short time?' But then I took a night bus last week and had some time to really reflect on my last 18 months here, the people I’ve met and the work we’ve been doing, and I am so glad she did! She asked me to think about highlights and maybe even a few lows and to try to sum things up. I really got on a roll and decided that a brief 500 words doesn’t really do it justice! I really want to share so many stories and experiences and my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner. So here is the first part of a series of posts I will be sharing with you over the coming weeks. I hope this will give you a little glimpse into my time here.

Hla Min Oo's Story

Let me introduce Hla Min Oo, he is 11. Hla Min Oo lives with his grandmother in a sweatshop. His mother works in Bangkok. At the age of 4 years, HMO got TB meningitis and was left with left sided hemiplegia and epilepsy. We first got introduced when his grandmother was trying to get him accepted at Star Flower, the special needs migrant school. From the very beginning, I thought he was “too good” for the special school and could easily be integrated into a mainstream school. Unfortunately it’s not so easy here. HMO repeated kindergarten 4 times. When we met him, he was in grade 1 at the age of 10. He told us he hated going to school and that children bully and tease him all day; they imitate the way he postures his arm and how he runs slowly. In his words “I have no friends”. He also complained that writing from the board was challenging and gave him a headache. Because he was falling behind on the content of the classes, his grandmother paid for a private tutor, but this meant he came home from school at 3:45pm, quickly ate something and headed out the door again from 4:30pm until 8-9pm. The story was heartbreaking and unacceptable. On our first assessment visit, I asked HMO what his goals were and he said “I want to learn to roller skate”. What a cool kid – I have to say that’s a first for me!

I visited his school on 2 separate occasions to discuss his situation with his headmaster. After both of these meetings, I felt defeated. She said “we have over 30 students in each class, what do you want us to do?” When I suggested perhaps printing some of the lesson instead of making him copy everything from the board, she said that was unrealistic. She also felt managing the behaviour of the other students would be difficult.

When I think of HMO, I can think of so many lows, but also a few really great highs! I told HMO we were going to start working on his goal of roller skating. I admit now that I probably bit off more than I could chew. We arrived with the rollerblades and his smile was from ear to ear. His grandmother said that he’d said “this is going to be the best day in my life”. I think he realised it was maybe a bit of an optimistic goal to start and that we have a lot of work to do but he loved every minute of it. I reached out to friends and colleagues about how on earth I was going to try to teach this…it’s a work in progress!

Another happy time I had with HMO was the day I got him integrated into a football tournament with Playonside. At first the organisers were reluctant to have children with disabilities included, mainly because they didn’t want them to feel bad when comparing themselves to other kids. They were also afraid they might say the wrong thing. I kept pushing and said it was more about the socialisation, making friends, and having fun. HMO had a wonderful day and he still talks about how he “won the gold medal” (all participants got a gold medal).

Hla Min Oo is a good kid. He is trying his best to fit in and keep up with his studies. He hasn’t been dealt an easy hand, but he keeps smiling! We are so lucky to work with him.

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