Saw Beebe, lies flat on his stomach on the family’s wooden floor, and for the last two years that is how he has spent most of his time looking at his now restricted world. He misses going outside and all the childhood activities that his illness now denies him.
Saw Beebe, now 9, like most children enjoyed going to school and loved dancing. When he turned seven, Saw Beebe suffered a cruel, disabling illness that led him to losing his mobility and forcing him to stay at home.
Saw Beebe’s family live in Thay Maw Ku, a remote village in Hlaingbwe Township, Karen State, close to the Thai-Burma border. The village has a small clinic that can treat people with minor illnesses, but for those with serious problems like Saw Beebe, they have to travel over mountains, using dirt tracks that turn to mud in the wet season and calf deep dust in the dry and then find a boat to cross the river to a hospital in the Thai border town of Mae Tan, Tha Song Yang district, Tak Province.
The village may not be very far in distance, but due to lack of all-weather sealed roads and local transport it takes one-and-half hours to drive during the dry season on a dirt road that have to navigate up and down several hills. The trip to reach the Thai border is only possible with the use of a four-wheel-drive pickup truck. During the wet season, villagers have to make the arduous trek on foot.
In July 2013, Mu Naw Gay, 37, Saw Beebe’s mother said that her son complained of being exhausted – he had high fever for a day. The family took him to Mae Tan Hospital, but Saw Beebe’s condition worsen until he was both mentally and physically disabled. The hospital discharged him as there was no treatment available to treat the small boy. It is suspected by health workers that his illness was the result of some form of bacterial or viral infection in the brain that resulted in the boy’s severe disability.
Mu Naw Gay recalls her neighbors shocked reaction on seeing her son’s condition for the first time.
She said, “he used to be a very happy boy. If he heard the sound of music, he would always dance. He was not shy.”
Mu Naw Gay said the neighbors response was a common reaction in the village to Saw Beebe’s condition.
“At first when people see him with this condition, they cried. He had a lot of friends.”
Naw Wai, 73, Saw Beebe’s grandmother, has been taking care of the boy said that she was heartbreaking to see her grandson in this condition.
“I have been taking care of him – through sleepless nights. The first time I saw him with this condition, I felt sad for him and I cried.”
Saw Beebe Gets Wheels
It is almost three years, since Saw Beebe was struck down with the illness and his increasing weight was causing problems, making it difficult for his family to carry him outside or around the house.
The family’s worry about moving Saw Beebe was about to get a helping hand, or to be more precise, a set of wheels.
On 9 March, 2106, the Burma Children Medical Fund organized the delivery of six wheelchairs to Thay Maw Ku village, one for Saw Beebe and the others for other children without mobility in surrounding villages.
Ms. Kanchana Thornton, BCMF’s director told Karen News that the wheelchairs are important for children who are house bound because of their physical disability and gave them a certain amount of independence and improved their lives significantly.
“The wheelchairs are very important for all the children who really need them, they can now access their local surroundings. They can now get out and about, get a certain level of independence, some can even go to school and will no longer be isolated.”
Ms Thornton said the Burma Children Medical Fund was set up to give children in Burma access to quality health care that they are unable to get in their own country.
Saw Beebe’s wheelchair has also had a long journey, beginning at the workshop of Wheelchairs for Kids in the faraway modern city of Perth, Western Australia and ending up in jungle villages like Thay Maw Ku in the mountains of Karen State. The wheelchairs are made by volunteers, mainly retired men, the oldest over 90.
Saw Beebe was not the only one to get a wheelchair from the retired volunteers in Perth, Ms. Thornton said BCMF received a donation of 165 wheelchairs in the recent shipment from the Australian organization, Wheelchairs for Kids.
The wheelchairs were shipped from Perth, Australia to Bangkok, Thailand then to the Thai border town of Mae Sot. In Bangkok, BCMF donated 30 wheelchairs to the Institute of Orthopedics at Lerdsin General Hospital, before 135 wheelchairs made the 600km journey to the Mae Tao Clinic, Mae Sot on the Thai Burma border.
Ms Thornton credited Debbie Singh, a Perth woman for getting the project of the ground – organizing groups in Australia and for fundraising for the shipping fees from Perth to Mae Sot.
Debbie said she was delighted to travel with the BCMF team to deliver the wheelchair to Saw Beebe at Thay Mu Ku village. Ms Singh spoke to Karen News about her feelings on the trip.
“When Kanchana invited me to go into the jungle to deliver the wheelchairs, I had no idea what an amazing venture I was about to embark on. Seeing wheelchairs loaded onto the very narrow long-tail boats and then stepping into the boat from the steep muddy embankment was scary, but this was the only way to cross the river to get to the remote jungle communities.”
Debbie met with Saw Beebe and his family at their home in Thay Mu Ku village and described what she saw.
“Arriving at the village and meeting with Saw Beebe was an eye opener, no healthcare is available, not even basic stuff, but thanks to Kanchana and her BCMF team things are changing. It was so sad to hear why this little boy is permanently physically and mentally disable because his Mum could not get him to proper healthcare.”
Debbie said that the wheelchairs donated by Wheelchair For Kids and the Rotary Club of Wanneroo will help Saw Beebe and his family.
“Thankfully, Saw Beebe now has a wheelchair, he will be able to go outside his house, interact with the community and mum will not have to carry him everywhere.”
This is the third time Debbie has sent containers of wheelchairs containing a total of 497. Debbie promised that she intends to do more to help those with a need.
“To see the kids, especially those from poor community’s get a wheelchair is so uplifting and I am very proud to be a link in a very long chain that makes it happen.”
Debbie said that she will continue to try to help children in need.
“I hope we can continue sending more every year. The need is enormous throughout Myanmar and Thailand.”
Saw Beebe’s mother Mu Naw Gay, agreed that the wheelchair will be a great help to her.
“This wheelchair will help us in many ways. We can take him around in the village. His brothers and sister can also push him around in the house. We can also push him on the main road. We are happy to get this [wheelchair] donation.”
Mu Naw Gay is hopeful that her boy will get better and continue his schooling that he likes.
“We hope he will recover because he can still go to school. We still want him to study. He used to be good at studying and loved going to school. He would get up, put on ‘Thanakar’ and go to school without even eating his breakfast. He would only take a snack and go. Sometimes, I had to take food for him to the school.”
BCMF’s Ms Thornton said that with the generous donation from Wheelchairs for Kids, they will be now able to provide wheelchairs for patients and extend its reach to those in isolated villages in south east Burma.
Ms Thornton, told Karen News that she is grateful to those people with generous hearts who worked to help build and deliver the wheelchairs for the children.
“We would like to thank Wheelchairs for Kids and Allied Pickfords for arranging the transport within Thailand and to the Suwannimit Foundation in Mae Sot. A special thanks has to go to the Rotary Clubs of Wanneroo and Scarborough in Western Australia”.
Ms. Thornton, said that the getting wheelchairs to those children in need was important as the wheelchairs would give independence and add to the quality of life for children who had lost their mobility.