Many hill tribe people in northern Thailand find it difficult to make ends meet, but life is especially hard if they have children with a physical or mental disability. This is a major problem faced by Akha hill tribe people, according to Father Armando Te Nuzzo, director of the Camillian Social Center in Chiang Rai. “Pregnant women do not have access to adequate health care which means quite a few babies are born with a disability,” he said, adding that the numbers are increasing. In response to this the Camillian congregation opened its Social Center in Chiang Rai two years ago – to try and help the children lead as near a normal life as possible and ease the burden on parents. According to Father Te Nuzzo, there are now 23 disabled children living at the center, whose ages range from infancy to 12. “Parents don’t know how to care for disabled children properly and don’t have the money to buy expensive medicines,” the priest said, adding that most of the children cannot speak and some cannot walk. The center has trained personnel to care for the children and to help them with physical and speech therapy. Chirasak Pongkasem, who works at the center, explained that many children are born with disabilities because their mothers were not eating the right kinds of food during their pregnancy. Because they are poor, their daily diet consists mainly of rice and chili paste. Also, some who become seriously ill during pregnancy do not have access to proper medical treatment, he said. The center provides therapy and help according to the needs of each child, besides laying on music and computer lessons, and games to develop their physical and mental abilities. Chirasak noted that besides helping the children, the center is also helping their families since they are free of having to worry about their kids and can concentrate on trying to make a living. Anan Aryi, 10, one of the children living at the center said: “I’m very happy here because I have friends. At home, I do nothing and see hardly anyone. I’m learning how to use a computer and I will use this knowledge to help support my family in the future,” he said.
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