In the newspaper business you get to experience and see many things and once in awhile something affects you so strongly you feel you might not be able to convey your experience properly in words. Such was the case when I agreed to do a story on the Wheelchair Project of Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development known as RICD.
The RICD was started in Chiang Mai (www.wheelchairproject.com ) as a Royal Project under the patronage of H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, daughter of H.M.The King of Thailand. Units of the Project are linked to the government hospitals in Hua Hin and in Uttaradit.
The RICD is an organisation that aims to assist poor people with disability. Second hand wheelchairs are collected from all over the world and given free to people with a disability who are too poor to buy mobility aids by themselves. It is a joint venture between government and non-government organisations. The project has been ongoing since 2001 and is currently staffed by volunteers from Thailand and other countries.
For the past few years the project has operated up in our region and the need is great. A volunteer commented that “many poor disabled people are hidden inside homes in Thailand. It is difficult to carry them outside or due to shame many of them stay indoors for years sometimes on beds but sometimes even on the ground not being able to go outside to see the world and socialise.”
I was able to speak with a volunteer who told me about tragic cases. For example a lady they are dealing with has no mobility and cannot afford to get to the hospital. She has no wheelchair and has not received any physiotherapy. She has been laying on her stomach inside her families house for eight years. Now RICD is attempting is bringing help to her and others with major disabilities.
One of the volunteers brought me to Hua Hin Hospital where the Director of Hua Hin Hospital, Dr. Nirun Juntrakul is very involved in this project. I did a short tour of the project where I managed to feel the magic of what they were trying to accomplish. I am not ashamed to say I cried on our tour not because it was so tragic, but because what I saw was patients with an unbelievable unbroken spirits and also the amazing people caring for them in humble surroundings with genuine love and pride for what they were doing.
I was brought to the area where patients that come in need of wheelchairs, prosthetics or other mobility needs. I met Khun M whose job is to build prosthetics. To me the prosthetics looked very primitive but to someone else they are a means to moving around and independence. Khun M cannot build as many prosthetics as are needed and there is always a long waiting list. The final touch to a prosthetic is the melting of nylon stockings to the resin made leg or arm to make it more durable.
Donating to RICD can be as simple as making a collecting of old or new nylon stockings that will make someone’s prosthetic leg durable and water resistant.
I also met Benchamas Jinta-arjaree or Khun Ben as she is also known, who is in charge of the Prosthetics and Orthopedics Department. When we arrived she had the radio on with music so on of RICD patients could sway his hands to the music. The young man with little motor skills and obvious brain damage let me hold his hands as we danced with our hands to the music. I am not sure if he was being measured for a wheelchair but he was obviously treated with much love and respect.
I also was allowed to peek into the Rehabilitation Centre where people in hospital after accidents or patients who have the means to come to the hospital receive much needed physiotherapy.
I meet lovely people that are our proud of their work such as the lady-boss of the Physiotherapy Department Khun Wanpen Leungnarutai and The Physiotherapist in charge of the RICD Wheelchair Project in Hua Hin Hospital Khun Nattanun Saetang (Khun Nam). Additionally I was truly touched by a little boy of 5 years called SomO with a beautiful energy who lives in the Hospital and has received a wheelchair from RICD.
This is what I wrote on my personal Facebook when I came from my tour:
A little someone broke my heart in a good way today. His name is SomO (Grapefruit) and he is 5 years old. He was born without a complete intestinal tract and other complications and 5 years ago his parents brought him to Hua Hin Hospital and left him there and never came back. Maybe they couldn’t afford to take care of him, so they left him in the Neonatal care and maybe hoped for the best. Because of this he has no official Thai ID card, and so he doesn’t exist legally in Thailand. He needs constant medical care and has spent his short life in the neonatal care unit.
He is lovingly cared for in this not so modern government hospital in clean clothes, handmade hat and a batman toy in hand. He is happy (he showed me the ok sign with his hand many times) and cheerfully wheeled around the hospital by his adopted “family” the nurses, doctors, patients and the like. I am doing a story on the RICD Wheelchair project which also helped SomO and others. Hopefully they can get funding to care for other people that need wheelchairs, prosthetics and necessities to live. If someone wants to really give something meaningful for Christmas…
This small snippet elicited responses from many that wanted to donate money. I even had a kind offer of second hand Batman toys to be sent to little SomO. But there are so many more that need help. It is not unheard off or unusual for the Volunteers to find patients that have no access to a toilet or that due to immobility the house is unlivable. As for SomO, he is in good care and seems genuinely happy even though they still keep operate on him from time to time to alleviate his condition (for free I might add). But he taught me that I should not complain about life so much and if I do I should think about his positive attitude and see his small fingers making the OK sign. Everything is OK.
More About RICD
RICD does not just donate wheelchairs but as well other equipment such as crutches, cushions, walkers, bath-chairs, toilet-chairs, patient lifts, bed tables and tricycles.
If a disabled patient is not able to come to a distribution venue, the RICD Wheelchair Team will visit him/her at home in order to fit the disabled patient in the wheelchair and help in general. It is important to emphasise that people with a disability have the right to be integrated and lead a decent life in their own community.
Although the RICD Wheelchair Project Team has been able to help many people, the Project is limited by the amount of equipment that is received. Currently the number of potential recipients far exceeds the amount of equipment. The RICD’s Director estimates that there are at least 200,000 people in Thailand who are in need for a wheelchair. Thus far the project has been able to assist over 12,000 people.
The need for donations of wheelchairs and other medical equipment remains a great need for many people in Thailand. Another limitation for the RICD Wheelchair Project is the lack of funding. The Project doesn’t receive any assistance from the Thai Ministry of Public Health, nor can The Project charge its beneficiaries as these are all poor people.
RICD Wheelchair Project Hua Hin Unit
The following tasks are currently being carried out in close cooperation with the Hua Hin Hospital:
Providing second hand wheelchairs and other mobility aid to poor people with a disability in the region in close cooperation with the physiotherapists of the local government hospitals.
Pamper’s Project: providing pampers to poor people with disability in the same region, on a monthly basis. These pampers are bought with money from individuals who can ‘adopt’ a patient.
Building patient lifts with the help of donor money. The reason for this project is that patients tend to become heavier and it becomes more difficult to take care of themselves.
The Project does not donate these rather expensive patient lifts but will lend the lifts to the patients.
I would like to thank everyone involved in RICD just for letting me have access just a moment. I hope that instead of spending money on presents this Christmas some of us may give freely to RICD Hua Hin and let someone come out of the shadows and into the world.
Let there be light this Christmas for all!
For more information on RICD:
See “New lives” a short film made by volunteers about the RICD Wheelchair Project: http://youtu.be/6tY6On8vhaM
If you would like to donate money:
Bank account no. RICD Wheelchair Project department Hua Hin:
Siam Commercial Bank Hua Hin 766-236905-4