The Foundation’s initial contact with the British Community In Thailand Foundation For the Needy (BCTFN) came on referral from the British Embassy and through Mr. Liam Ayudhkij, former Vice President of BCTFN.
In November of 2000, our Foundation submitted a funding proposal to BCTFN to set up a disabled managed wheelchair workshop in the city of Chiang Mai. The initial proposal listed a start up project budget of 217,275 Thai Baht and included the purchase of hand tools; gas and electric welding tools; work benches and tables; basic metal stock; supplies of wheels, tyres and bearings; workshop annual rental; anticipated electricity; and 6 months of student trainee subsistence wages at 3,500 Baht per student. On the 27th of March, 2001, BCTFN forwarded us a cheque in the amount of 128,375 Thai Baht. Receipt of this cheque marked the beginning of what was to later mature into the Freedom Wheelchair Workshop.
Under the careful guidance of retired British wheelchair engineer Mr. Geoffrey Thorsby, these BCTFN funds were invested in equipment, a rental space, and metal stock. Initial training included 2 paraplegic wheelchair users, a polio survivor, and one non-disabled Akha hill tribe boy. Training was provided by Mr. Thorsby in addition to teachers hired from the Chiang Mai Technical College. Classes included welding, metal fabrication, and mechanical drafting. Trainees were also taught English and computer at the Foundation’s Chiang Mai Disabled Centre.
Early on, the Foundation became acutely aware that in literally several thousand rural and remote areas in northern Thailand, poor and needy disabled children (as well as adults) had absolutely no access to wheeled mobility of any kind. The fact that these rural poor lacked the means to purchase commercial wheelchairs caused the Foundation to establish its wheelchair sponsorship program wherein wheelchairs would be made to order and given away free of charge. This sponsorship program later matured to include free home visitation, physical therapy, wheelchair training, maintenance service, and the Foundation’s publication of Thailand’s first and only Thai language “Wheelchair User Manual”.
Over a 4 year period (March 2001-March 2005), the Freedom Wheelchair Workshop produced mobility aids including 4 wheel standard chairs; 3 wheel all terrain chairs, reclining cerebral palsy “buggies”, walkers, wheeled walkers, crutches, ramps, hand rails, amputee skate boards, and even wheeled walkers for disabled animals.
All of these mobility aids were donated free of charge.
During this same 4 year period, the Freedom Wheelchair Workshop established itself as an innovative mobility workshop by expanding its production to include all manner of specially designed individual aids as well as a complete line of PVC low cost mobility aids. The workshop also established a close working relationship with Special Education Centres and regional welfare offices in all of northern Thailand’s provinces. As of March, 2005, the geographical area covered by the Freedom Wheelchair workshop now runs from Lee, Doi Tao, Omquoy, Kampang Phet and Mai Sariang in the south; to the Burmese border on the north; to the Burmese border on the west; to Nan, Phrae, and Piyao on the east.
Our first disabled trainee, Khun Mongkol Chumpookort, is now a highly skilled wheelchair designer and our full time Manager.
Our mobility aids have now matured to the point where they are as professionally reliable as any chairs available in Thailand. Often our chairs regularly include safety belts, safety chest harnesses, seat pommels, special seating, head and neck supports, padded foot rests, and removable activity tables.
Additional BCTFN Cooperation
During 2004, BCTFN financially assisted the Foundation in its effort to publish a bilingual (Thai/English) do-it-yourself PVC crutch, walker and wheelchair publication which will be completed in 2005 and distributed free of charge all across Thailand.
During 2005, BCTFN financially assisted the Foundation’s wheelchair workshop build and pay for a motorcycle wheelchair access sidecar for our staff as well as sponsoring 5 adult wheelchairs for partially paralyzed elderly stroke victims.
As a direct result of BCTFN support, the lives of more than 325 northern Thai, poor and needy disabled persons have experienced major life change via access to wheeled mobility. Mobility recipients have included Thais ranging in ages from 4-72 years old, as well as minority recipients including Lahu, Karen, Lisu, Hmong, Akha, and Yao. Disabilities assisted have included amputees, victims of stroke, paraplegia, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, hydrocephalus, birth defect, and polio.