The sanitation needs of society’s marginalised often go overlooked, but the Foundation to Encourage the Potential of Disabled Persons (FEPDP) is stepping in to change that. The Chiang Mai-based group has recently launched initiatives to overhaul the toilet facilities of people living with disabilities.
Founded in 1993, FEPDP’s early operations primarily involved the delivery of wheelchairs directly to disabled persons around Thailand. The organisation grew over time to work towards meeting other specific needs of people who contacted them, such as building a customised wheeled gurney for a 25 year old man who suffered from severe spasms.
Don Willcox, who founded the organisation with his wife Piranon, said that FEPDP works with people who have “all sorts of disabilities: diabetic amputees, stroke survivors, accident victims, mentally disabled persons and many elderly persons.”
When they visited the organisation’s beneficiaries in their homes, FEPDP saw areas where they could step in to improve living conditions. Their first project was to upgrade the toilet facilities of those for whom using squat toilets — especially ones that had no surrounding walls or any form of lighting — could be prohibitively dangerous due to their physical disabilities.
“Each situation varies,” explained Willcox. “Sometimes outhouses have collapsed or are in desperate need of repair, or are just too far from the main living space for a disabled person to access. Once in a while we have even discovered that the only outhouse toilet is a squat basin dug into the hard ground, without walls, roof or door, and that the original septic tank is full or collapsed.”
They approached the British Community In Thailand Fund For The Needy (BCTFN) for support in funding these projects. Together, they established parametres: they would provide monetary funds for new toilets, but the labour for constructing them would have to be volunteered, and the money would only be given for materials once the products were completed.
Within a year, their project had successfully built seventeen new toilets in rural areas around Phrae, Mae Ka, Fang, Ta Kian Pom and Tung Hua Chang.
As the project progressed, it gained more and more momentum through the growing support of locals who wanted to help. Monks and Thai Army personnel began to take over the manual labour, and local officials lent a hand by providing lunch for those who volunteered. “What has been exciting for us is the local participation,” Willcox said. “We have often checked on construction to find whole groups of locals mixing concrete, and more importantly feeling very positive about their personal involvement.
At the time of this article, FEPDP has built 45 toilets. They also make the most of any opportunities to use their building materials to construct more secure living structures around the new toilet facilities. Wilcox said, “Whenever possible, many toilets have included shower connections for bathing, and in four or five situations existing houses were completely replaced by recycling as much material as possible and adding new when appropriate.”
If you’d like to help, FEPDP has a new waiting list that could use donor support.
The Foundation’s account is 844-206940-6 in Siam Commercial Bank.
Doi Sakhet/Borsang Road, Chiang Mai 50130
Donations are also accepted via PayPal in the foundation’s name.