A while back, I had the privilege of spending a day with Charis staff as they went on their rounds to deliver nutrition packets to moms and children in need of family support.
I’ve thought of this day and its beauty many times since then, and one picture that comes to my mind often is a wheelchair parked in a dusty field beside a tiny bamboo hut. This is where a little boy with cerebral palsy lives with his mother: a small statured woman with a lovely face, tanaka decorating her cheeks. She has another small child and a lot of work for one woman. I have no experience with raising a child who has cerebral palsy, but I imagine it would feel isolating, confusing, and exhausting, even in the best of circumstances.
In these (best of) circumstances, parents would have access to doctors with excellent education in cerebral palsy, and would be guided along, encouraged to shower love on their child, helped with milestones, resources, and all their millions of questions.
But in the bamboo hut on a scorching hot May afternoon, with the wheelchair sitting in the dust, outside, the mother of this boy doesn’t have those kinds of resources. What she has is a culture full of superstition (which can lead to all sorts of “remedies” or harmful styles of caring for someone with a visible disability), a life of hard work, lack of knowledge about nutrition and health, a life away from her original home, and a boy who didn’t develop the way other boys developed.
The hut sits on a bit of a hill, open to a breeze that cooled us as we sat on a little platform, chatting with the boy and his mother. Tin Tin, the Charis staff member I accompanied, greeted the little boy with a hug. She introduced me and told me he couldn’t stand when they first met him, then, she and his mother urged him to stand and show off for me. He did, grinning and laughing. Tin Tin gave him pieces of orange and encouraged him to feed himself. She laughed with him and played with him. She told me that he’s been attending a special school in the area, made possible by another organization.
We sat with his mother for half an hour, because delivering weekly nutrition packets is not just delivering eggs, veggies and fruit for Charis. It’s sitting and talking, hearing the news from the past week, hearing the small triumphs, grievances, questions.
In another time or place, this mother could have been treated another way; she and her husband may have been pressured to give their child to a home where he might lay on a cot for hours, unattended. This is the worst side of the previous, institutional model of care for families in poverty. This is what The Charis Project seeks to prevent.
Supporting families where they are keeps them together.
This is the vision I caught so clearly as I went with Charis staff from hut to hut, watching and joining in as they greeted, chatted, answered questions and sat for hours together with women in the lower margins of society. This is the kind of support that allows a mother with a special child to keep him. She is heard, helped, and supported with good information and nutrition. It is a great relief to a woman shouldering the hard work of keeping a family together. A net of support, people to come and cheer over milestones, and commiserate over the offenses and indignities that come with being marginalized. Just that little bit of support gives honor. Entrusting women and families with the knowledge and resources they need to make the best choices for their families is offering them the esteem they deserve.
I have rarely felt as hopeful as I did that day, sitting in that small hut.
Some months after Rachel’s visit with us we filmed an interview with Tin Tin Chu, the mother in this story, after she joined our Family Support team. Here is more of her story in her own words.
Rachel Devenish Ford is the author of the Blog Journey Mama, and a number of books, including A Traveller’s Guide to Belonging, and the YA fantasy series World Whisperer. Rachel lives in Pai, Thailand with her husband and 5 children.