During her final year as a physiotherapy student, Krissy Wilhelmsen travelled to Nepal to volunteer at the Shishu Biskas Kendra School in Pokhara. Inspired by her time there, she says she sought ‘the opportunity to work overseas and experience different cultures again’.
So, after graduating and working in Queensland for a while, Krissy applied for a volunteer physiotherapist position through the Australian Government’s Australian Volunteers for International Development program.
In 2015, she travelled to Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, to take up a position at the Eden Centre for Disabled Children, an organisation that supports children with physical and intellectual disabilities. Here, Krissy was able to draw on the experience she had gained in schools and communities in Australia while working with local staff to implement rehabilitation and inclusive education programs.
The work was challenging. ‘Many schools in Myanmar are physically inaccessible, especially with frequent flooding in the monsoon season, and they lack the resources and specialised teaching skills needed to support children with disabilities’, she says.
In the areas of education, and advocating for the full participation of people with disabilities in society, Australia can provide leadership and guidance…
The Eden Centre ran a program where staff supported children with disabilities to participate in mainstream schooling. Krissy worked with local staff members to determine and provide what each child needed, such as improved physical access or specialised equipment, so they could attend school and learn with their peers.
Krissy acknowledges the enormous value of Australia’s development assistance to countries like Myanmar. ‘In the areas of education, and advocating for the full participation of people with disabilities in society, Australia can provide leadership and guidance to improve educational systems. That improves opportunities for all.’
Reflecting on her time in Myanmar, Krissy says, ‘I learnt so much and was so inspired by the organisation’s work, the passion and drive of my colleagues, and the children and young people they support. The centre’s advocacy, efforts to change laws and policies, and its work on the ground in schools has inspired me to start studying a post-graduate course in disability studies’.
Krissy is now part of Australia’s volunteer program in Fiji with the Ministry of Education. ‘I am passionate about working alongside others to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities’, she says. ‘I see this as an exciting area to work in, both in Australia and overseas.’