A pioneer project gives independence and hope to rural
disabled in Thailand
An FAO pilot project in mushroom growing is giving
disabled people in Thailand new means to make a living and
to become self-sufficient. Twenty-eight disabled people have
now finished a two-month training course in growing and
selling mushrooms at the Vocational Training Centre in Ubon
Ratchathani in eastern Thailand. It is the first course of
its kind, and the disabled trainees, the trainers, FAO and
the Government of Thailand are all delighted with the
graduates of the mushroom growing project gather in
front of the Vocational Training Centre
"The project looks very promising and very successful.
These people had nothing before, but now they can support
themselves. It is not just about earning money, but also
about giving disabled people new possibilities and hope,"
says Lawrence Jacobson, FAO Human Resources Officer for
FAO and the Thailand Department of Public Welfare initiated
the training project in 1997. To ensure the participants'
commitment to the project, the 28 trainees, all mentally or
physically disabled, were selected through a lengthy process
including interviews and visits to their homes by a
nine-person selection committee. The participants had to
live at the training centre and work long hours, so criteria
such as family responsibilities and type of disability had
to be reviewed. The selection committee also evaluated the
physical and social resources available to the candidates to
ensure the successful establishment of a mushroom farm.
participants collect and weigh their mushrooms
before taking them to the nearby
Working together in small groups allowed the participants
to help each other overcome individual disabilities. The man
with only one arm learned new ways of handling
mushroom-filled bags, while blind trainees worked with
seeing colleagues when checking the water level in the
Future training courses will benefit from the extensive
evaluation of the programme made by both trainees and
trainers. The assessment was very positive, though there was
some criticism of the heavy workload. What the trainees
enjoyed most was being able to do the things they were
taught despite their disabilities and to develop friendships
with the other participants.
All 28 participants - 7 women and 21 men - graduated. Ten
have already started their own mushroom farms, while 14 have
come back to the training centre to learn more about
mushroom cultivation. In January, 28 new trainees will begin
"The training programme is expected to be continued and
expanded to other regions under the Government ownership,"
says Mr Hiroyuki Konuma, Chief of Operations Branch, FAO
Regional Office for Asia and The Pasific. Similar project
proposals are now being prepared in Cambodia, Laos, Sri
Lanka and other parts of Thailand. And many more such
projects are needed. Just in Thailand, an estimated
1.1 million people are disabled, many of them living in
rural areas in extreme poverty.
Saoxuvan (second from right) is one of the
several graduates who has already built a mushroom
FAO's efforts to help disabled people are currently
concentrated in Asia, as the countries in this region have
designated 1993-2002 as the Decade for the Disabled.
3 December 1999