British woman offers shelter for disabled kids

A decent facility with passionate teachers is the first impression one has when visiting the Kianh Foundation Centre in central Quang Nam Province, which is offering near free care and treatment for nearly 100 children with disabilities.

Jackie Wrafter, a wholehearted woman who has spent more than a decade with disabled children in Dien Ban Town, Quang Nam Province, founded the foundation in 2001.

“I was not really a ‘children person’ before I came to Vietnam. But I see the children with disabilities in Vietnam whose lives are so hard, and yet they never feel sorry for themselves and are just happy when they get the opportunity to do something more with their lives. It is impossible not to give a helping hand to children who have this attitude,” said Jackie.

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Hope: Kids have a chance to join a variety of programmes including art and dance, as well as receiving physical and occupational therapy. – Photo courtesy of Jackie

“There are children who seemed almost impossible to help when we first encountered them, and then with the support of our staff they learned to do simple, everyday things and to live life in a meaningful way. These children are always in my mind and their stories seem like small miracles,” said Jackie.

In 2001, when Jackie and her friend, Jacci Bulman came to Vietnam on a world tour, they visited an orphanage in Dien Ban Ward that Jackie eventually worked at.

“We strongly felt that we had to do something to help the children here,” said Jackie.

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Under her wing: Jackie adopted Khoa when he was seven years old. Now, Khoa lives with her and talks with his family every week on the phone. – Photo courtesy of Jackie

Returning to England, Jackie called for donations for these kids by talking to everyone about them. One of her friends also helped her by speaking about the children on BBC Radio’s John Peel show, while others made a small book about them. Jackie did not expect that the foundation would eventually get regular amounts of money from donors.

“We decided the best thing we could do for the children was to employ a physiotherapist to start working with them, and later register as a charity,” said Jackie.

Many desperate families in the province then started to give their disabled children to the orphanage, hoping that Jackie’s group could help them. Many of kids came from Dien Ban Town, where there are a large number of children with disabilities.

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Growing skills: After some time in the centre, they can follow a class routine, be more independent, social, and have a more varied vocabulary. – Photo courtesy of Jackie

In 2012, the Kianh Foundation started to run a purpose-built day centre for such children with the aim of supporting families so that they don’t get to the stage where they feel their child is such a burden that they have to abandon it to an institution, said Jackie.

“Whilst more special schools are appearing in the cities, the situation for children with disabilities living in rural areas is still pretty hopeless,” said Jackie.

There are currently 99 children at the centre, who have all kinds of different abilities and disabilities.

Up until last month, the families had to pay only VND200,000 (US$9) per month to cover the basic costs of the kids’ lunchtime meals.

“Recently we are having some problems in finding enough charitable donations, so we recently shared this problem with our families and asked them to pay a bit more, depending upon what they could afford,” said Jackie.

“We greatly appreciated the families’ readiness to pay more, even those who are in very difficult economic circumstances,” added Jackie.

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In need: “We are still waiting for generous donors who see how much impact we are having on these children and wants to help us do more,” said Jackie. – Photo courtesy of JackieIn the near future, the centre will help some organisations in training their staff and developing their programmes as the centre has become experienced in these areas.

Early intervention key

Generally, when kids are admitted to the centre, they are often low in self-confidence, are not used to any kind of structure or routine, and have hardly any basic skills.

After some time at the centre, they can follow a class routine, be more independent, social, and have a more varied vocabulary, said Nguyen Thi Quynh, who has worked as a teacher in the centre for six years.

The centre provides physical and occupational therapy as well as a modified mainstream Vietnamese curriculum for children who have good cognitive abilities. It also offers a wide variety of other programmes, which include an early literacy and numeracy programme, communication and speech development, as well as life skills, behaviour management, dance therapy and art.

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Wholehearted: Jackie Wrafter, founder of Kianh Foundation. In 2012, the foundation opened a day care centre which now hosts 99 children with disabilities. – Photo courtesy of Jackie

“We feel that early intervention is very important, so we take children as young as we can,” said Jackie. “We are also starting to do more work with the families, which is so important. The families really need to be on board, active in their child’s development and give them opportunities to do at home what they have learned at the centre. Parents need to have expectations of their child.”

“We would like to become a resource centre helping build the capacity of other schools and support mainstream schools in supporting children with special needs, but I think this also needs some input from the Ministry of Education. Even if mainstream teachers are trained in some special education strategies, it is still very hard for them to put them into place when they have a class of 30, 40 or even 50 students to manage,” said Jackie.

“We are still waiting for generous donors who see how much impact we are having on these children and want to help us do more,” said Jackie.

The local authority has granted about 4,000sq metres for the centre. It will give more land to expand the centre as the waiting list to join the centre grows month by month, said Deputy Chairman of the Dien Ban Town People’s Committee, Nguyen Xuan Ha.

"Most of the families having disabled children here are very poor, so the operation of this foundation is greatly meaningful and humane," said Ha.

“Poor parents don’t have to worry about their child and can go to work to make ends meet,” said Ha.

"We could hardly find another person who can do so much for disabled kids as Jackie," said Nguyen Thi Quynh, who has worked as a teacher at the foundation for years.

"She is truly a selfless person, who has a deep compassion for the kids. She always wants to bring the best things to the kids and staff. Everyone working here surely shares the same feelings towards Jackie as me," said Quynh.

There is currently an Australian special education trainer working at the centre and other international experts make frequent trips to the centre to provide the staff technical support every year, said Quynh.

In 2006, Jackie adopted seven-year-old Khoa, who was sent to Dien Ban’s orphanage because his family was so poor.

Khoa was a bright and intelligent kid who was eager to learn. He learned to walk, feed himself and started talking much more in a very short time, said Jackie.

In 2007, an American charity stopped funding the orphanage and Khoa was about to be sent back to his family.

“It would be terrible if a child with so much potential went back to a place where he would just stay at home all day and never have the opportunity of an education. So I asked his parents if I could share the care of him with them, and they agreed,” said she.

“Khoa loves me and his family a lot,” added Jackie.


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