Handicap sur le Monde arrived at the Eden Center for Disabled Children in Yangon on November, 21st 2012. This place is the first and only institute dedicated to disabled people in Burma. This pioneering institute (which, we must admit, has been neglected by the Burmese government itself) must strive to survive and help young disabled children from Burma. The director and some employees of the center welcomed us and helped us discover the place at our arrival.
Progressive discovery of the Burmese society
We first settled in Yangon for a few weeks so as to meet the people working with disabled children in Burma. Our primary goal there was to learn more about the situation of the disabled in the country. Before our very arrival in Burma, we already knew it would be hard (not to say impossible) to work and set up a realistic project here. That is why we decided to give priority to meeting and talking with the right persons working on the ground. These contacts will be very useful to help us understand the influence of a political regime such as Burma’s on the lives of disabled people.
After numerous hours of investigation, we learned about the existence of this unique place in Burma: the Eden Center for Disabled Children. Very quickly, we sent a few e-mails to explain the purpose of our project and to arrange an appointment. At our arrival, we went to the French embassy in Burma, where we were reassured about the center’s involvement and seriousness.
November, 21st 2012: We got on the train whose railroad crosses the city and which stops, at a very slow pace, in all the surrounding villages. Between the aisles, the passengers had left various crates and cases containing their belongings. Eventually, we arrived at Insein, a district located in the northwest part of the city, where the center is. At each stop, food and drinks vendors didn’t hesitate to hail the passengers to sell their goods at a modest price. After more than one hour in this jostling train, our journey, both colorful and exhausting (because of the heat and humidity), eventually led us to our destination.
Bund to turn to foreign funds
Once arrived at the Eden Center, we were welcomed by the director and co-founder of the Daw Lilian Gyi Center. This center was created on April, 18th 2000 in order to take care of people suffering from mental or motor impairment, but also to inform and raise awareness among the Burmese, thanks to a documentation center sheltering a library and useful pedagogical material. At first sight, we couldn’t help but being positively surprised by the quality of their facilities. Even if they’re not quite up to the European standards, we found many useful tools and modern equipment there. They even are endowed with a little swimming pool for hydrotherapy sessions. We almost felt like we were visiting a Medical and Educational Institute, even if after closer inspection, we realized that their equipment was still rather basic and limited. This equipment is not funded by the government and the center receives no help whatsoever from the ruling junta, that totally overlooks and neglects the issue of disability in the country. Their resources mainly come from NGOs such as the French charity Triangle Génération Humanitaire or the Australian or Canadian Rotary International and Lions Club.
During our interview with Lilian (the director), we were told about the difficulties they encountered in raising funds. She also told us the center could still survive for a few years but it was urgent for them to find further financial support as soon as possible. There again, they place high hopes in the next 2015 elections so that, at last, their efforts might be supported by the government.
Then, she described us their action in more details: school tuition programs led by specialized teachers, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy sessions supervised by qualified physiotherapists, sports, artistic and cultural activities…
This qualified staff has been formed and trained at the center, but also abroad: some were trained in Malaysia, Singapore or India…They all receive wages that might justify going on strike in our dear old country, but usually, they don’t even complain about their low pays. They all admit doing this job out of passion and because it simply allows them to meet their basic needs. They don’t ask for more and don’t even feel the need to have more.
We took the time to visit each room and to meet all the members of the staff. They were very curious to know why we had come so far to meet them. The rooms of the center, of different and various sizes, meet the needs of the children and of the personnel. Some kids can’t work or be taken care of within a large group, for them, the session has to be carried out in a more adapted room.
While we are visiting the center, we are welcomed by children of all ages smiling at us, divided in classes according to their age. Some are busy drawing, others using some motricity games while some are preparing a dancing show to present to friends and families. Most of the children in the center have mental disability but some have also physical problems. Type of their disability can be various. We meet some children with Dawn syndrom but also some with autism or children who yet don’t have a diagnosis. Teachers of Eden Center show us different classes where we find similar things of french institutions: group calendar, personalized calendars, educationnal material to increase space and time point of reference. All the kids give us the most warming welcome possible. One hyperactive child literally rushed towards us to greet us at our arrival. In the classroom, a young disabled girl who was taking care of a trisomic boy came to us and offered us some cookies with a large smile on her face. All of them wanted to shake hands or play with us. They stared at us with their eyes wide open and their warm welcome was so touching that in the end, it was really difficult to leave them.
Plans for the future ?
Visiting the Eden Center enabled us to learn more about the management of a specialized institute in Burma. It gave us the opportunity to understand how important governmental support is. Without the involvement of political leaders and governmental administration, these kinds of institutes couldn’t exist. The existence of this pioneering center in Burma is both necessary and indispensable to the country’s disabled children and their families. Many other kids are expecting to find a room or are waiting for the opening of another center because they live too far from Yangon or because the armed conflicts going on over the country prevent them from moving around. The survival of the Eden Center and the improvement of the care for disabled people undoubtedly depend on the changes the country is, hopefully, undergoing.
For more information about the Center, please click on the following link :Eden Center