Disability in Chiang Mai: Sri Sangwan School

Andy Barrow meets students at Sri Sangwan School

We spent a week acclimatising to life in Chiang Mai, revisiting old friends and meeting new ones, before getting to work finalising some trips we’d planned back in London. This began with a visit to a school for children with a disability.

Sri Sangwan is one of the “King’s Projects”, set up by King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand to provide better living standards and opportunities for his subjects.

I’d spent the previous few days working out what I was going to talk about at Sri Sangwan School. Ying, who kindly offered to translate, provided Thai wording for a presentation of pictures I’d decided to prepare. It included people all over the world with disabilities who had overcome adversity, including some living in Thailand. I hoped it would inspire them.

Jen kindly agreed to take us, as it was about a 45-minute drive from our hotel. We received a lovely welcome from the children and teachers and went into a very professional-looking hall. There was a huge round table with individual microphones; it was like something from a UN convention!

A warm welcome

I wasn’t sure what to expect before I started to speak. I’d of course spoken in many schools before, including many inclusive schools in the UK, but I’d never had to rely on a translator.

The school Principal welcomed us and said she just wants her students to have a chance; something, it could be argued, they do not really have.

A few years previously, students there started a wheelchair dance troupe and won Thailand’s Got Talent . I briefly became a little concerned that they had no need to listen to me speak at all!

Luckily everyone at the school still seemed keen to hear what I had to say. They were very interested in my experiences, just as I was theirs.

We then took some photos and the teachers showed us around another part of the school, which focused on teaching blind students. After chatting with some volunteers from Europe, we walked back to the main school to say goodbye. We also presented a donation our group gave to the school.

Giving back to the community

A biker community in Chiang Mai

Volunteering: A biker community in Chiang Mai

But just as we were leaving, we saw a big commotion by the entrance, accompanied by flashing blue lights. We thought there had been an accident, but the roar of more than 100 motorbikes soon followed!

However, there was no road accident or illegal commotion.

August 12, the day we visited, is also the Queen of Thailand’s birthday. On this day, people often volunteer or give back to their community.

The huge group of bikers was, in fact, waiting to volunteer at the school, complete with leather jackets and greased-up hair!

The scenes were wonderful and the children were given a reason to get excited all over again.

Don’t let disability hold you back

It’s incredibly heartening to see Sri Sangwan giving young people with a disability an education. The teachers encourage the students to be the best they can be.

There is still a little way to go regarding attitudes to disability in Asia. But the staff at Sri Sangwan are providing opportunities for their students to become change agents of the future.

The following day, we visited another wonderful facility for disabled children in Chiang Mai; something horse-lovers will particularly enjoy! More on that next time…

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