Twice a week, Saw (12) takes his little brother Kyan (4) to the Handicap International rehabilitation centre. It’s a fifteen minute walk through the refugee camp, along steep and often inaccessible paths, with his brother weighing heavily on his back. But Saw persists, because the rehabilitation sessions are far too important for Kyan. And these are actually his favourite moments of the week.
While his little brother, who suffers from cerebral palsy, does his exercises, Saw finally gets the chance to play and be a child himself. He discovers clay and puzzles, plays with balls and interacts with other children.
The toys are actually meant for disabled children and their rehabilitation exercises, but the staff is happy to let him play. After all, as soon as Kyan has finished his exercises, Saw needs to return to his adult life where there’s no opportunity to play.
Dropping out of school
Last year, Saw dropped out of school. ‘I wanted to take care of my little brother,’ he explains. He calls Kyan his brother, but in theory Saw is the boy’s uncle. When Kyan was born, his father ran away and was never seen again. He didn’t want to deal with his son’s disability.
Last year, his mother fled to Bangkok, hoping to find some work. (This involves some risks: if she gets caught, she could end up in prison, because Karen refugees don’t have to right to work in Bangkok). She left her disabled son with her parents who also live in the camps, but they are old and find it difficult to take care of him. Their youngest son, Saw, couldn’t stand it and decided to look after the boy.
Conscientiously, Saw helps Kyan with his daily rehabilitation exercises. He massages his muscles, helps him walk around the house with the walking device, and makes him move his arms and legs to prevent them from becoming stiff.
"It’s thanks to Saw that the effects of Kyan’s cerebral palsy haven’t in fact gotten worse," says Kan, Handicap International’s physiotherapist. "Kyan can sit up and pull himself up … That’s quite impressive."
The two boys are inseparable. They never leave each other’s sight. Saw can read Kyan’s body language and knows when he’s hungry or thirsty. "What Saw does for his brother is admirable. But it’s also worrisome, since Saw’s missing out on his childhood this way. He never plays with children of his own age," says Kan, the physiotherapist.
"I find it hard to leave him alone," says Saw. "Kyan can become agitated if he doesn’t see me. I would like to take him with me to the football field, but it’s too dangerous." He points at the rocky, steep path in front of the house.
"The paths in the camps are filled with loose stones, there are holes and steep slopes. When it rains, the camp changes into a slippery obstacle course. I’m too afraid to walk around with Saw on my back. I only take the risk when I go to the rehabilitation centre. And unfortunately, there’s no other place in the camp that is suitable for Saw to play."
Although he’s a child, Saw talks like an adult. He clearly is a smart kid. "But the fact that he doesn’t go to school, makes him vulnerable," Kan points out. Saw is aware of that. "I’ll return to class as soon as Kyan’s mother is back from Bangkok," he says.
But nobody knows when that will be …