A pioneer project gives independence and hope to rural disabled in Thailand

The first graduates of the mushroom growing project gather in front of the Vocational Training Centre 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 results.

"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 Disability Matters.

Project participants collect and weigh their mushrooms before taking them to the nearby market

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.

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 pasteurization chamber.

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.

Khan Suna Saoxuvan (second from right) is one of the several graduates who has already built a mushroom house

"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.

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

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