Volunteer physio supports children with disabilities in Myanmar

Volunteering at the Eden Centre for Disabled Children in Yangon has inspired physiotherapist Krissy Wilhelmsen to continue to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities to participate fully in their communities.

The Eden Centre was established in 2000, as the first non-government, not for profit organisation for children with physical and intellectual disabilities in Myanmar.

Initially set-up to provide physiotherapy and special education to children and families, the Eden Centre has grown to support a variety of programs, from community outreach and early intervention programs, through to supporting people with disabilities in their advocacy efforts.

Australian volunteer Kristina Wilhelmsen L with ECDC staff San San Win at the train station near the organisations office
Australian volunteer Krissy Wilhelmsen (left) with colleague San-San-Win at the train station near the organisations office. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono
Australian volunteer Kristina Wilhelmsen R volunteers in this organisation as a physiotherapist having a chat with Daw Yin Aye L mother of one of the children attending the session.
Krissy Wilhelmsen with Daw Yin Aye, mother of one of the children attending a session at ECDC. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono

“Many schools in Myanmar are inaccessible”

Krissy volunteered with the organisation for 18 months through the Australian Volunteers Program, working alongside her colleagues at the Eden Centre to improve the lives of children with disabilities.

“Many schools in Myanmar are physically inaccessible, especially with frequent flooding in the monsoon season, and lack the resources and specialised teaching skills needed to support children with disabilities,” explains Krissy.

Krissy drew on her experience in schools and communities in Australia to support her colleagues in their outreach projects, particularly an inclusive education project. 

“My colleagues helped me gain new skills”

“Together we created new assessment tools and resources,” says Krissy.

“I encouraged close collaboration and shared goal setting between therapists, teachers and parents, and saw the therapists feel more comfortable working in the classrooms alongside the teachers.

Thura Aung participant at ECDC with Kirssy Wilhelmsen and ECDC staff Naw Eh Hsar Htoo L and Khaing Phu Wai middle
Australian volunteer Krissy Wilhelmsen (far right) with ECDC participant Thura-Aung and staff Naw Eh Hsar Htoo (left) and Khaing-Phu-Wai (middle). Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono
Australian volunteer Krissy Wilhelmsen with ECDC staff member Khaing Phu Wai
Krissy Wilhelmsen with ECDC staff member Khaing Phu Wai. Photo: Harjono Djoyobisono

“I worked in the physiotherapy room, in the classroom with the teacher and with my colleagues on outreach programs in the community. This was particularly interesting as I got to see how students with disabilities were supported to access and participate in mainstream schools.”

Krissy says she learnt a lot from her colleagues at the Eden Centre: “they helped me learn more about the language, their culture, as well as gain new physiotherapy skills.

I was inspired by everyone I met at the Eden Centre. Many of my colleagues travelled two hours or more on crowded buses and trains to come to work, and they loved working with the children.

— Krissy Wilhelmsen

“The inspiration my colleagues provided was matched only by the children and their families. One boy I met was 13 the first time he came to the Eden Centre. He grew up in a small village and while he was very much loved by his family and community, he had no opportunities to go to school. His ability to leave his house was limited as he needed to use a wheelchair, which he didn’t have.

“His family moved close to the Eden Centre so he could attend school for the very first time. It was the first time he’d had friends his own age and the first time he’d been able to use a wheelchair to access his community. 

“He, and many other children like him, may never have access to these opportunities if it wasn’t for the tireless work and dedication of the people I now call my colleagues, friends and mentors. 

“The people I met at the Eden Centre have inspired me to keep finding opportunities to grow and challenge myself, and to promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities.”