Charity

Donald Willcox – Devoting Life to the Disabled

Foundation to Encourage the Potential of Disabled Persons (FEPDP) in Thailand focuses on the delivery of wheelchairs to disabled recipients throughout Thailand.

FEPDP was founded in 1993 to promote the health, education, employment, and dignity of disabled persons. They have worked hands-on with every kind of human disability including polio, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, trauma and diabetic amputation, heart attack, stroke, vision impairment, deafness, and mental retardation.

Donald Willcox, the foundation’s co-founder, has authored more than 30 books including eight volumes of self-help information for disabled persons. He has always worked as an unpaid foundation volunteer.

Human Asia has the following exclusive interview with Don.

How did you first have the idea to start FEPDP?

Don: I had established an American-based Foundation in Nepal for a period of 8 years prior to moving to Thailand. Although that Foundation (Hands In Outreach) was primarily an educational sponsorship program for poor Nepalese and Tibetan children, it often also involved assisting disabled children. When Nepal was experiencing political unrest and became dangerous for foreigners, I moved to Chiang Mai in Thailand.

Who are the people that the FEPDP serve?

Don: Primarily we serve the rural and remote areas across north Thailand where disabled persons of all ages live. These are the people who seldom have easy access to any kind of disability support and they include ethnic minority Thais.

In addition to delivering wheelchairs for people with disabilities, what other programs do you run?

Don: When we first established the Chiang Mai Disabled Center, we provided free classes in computer, English language, small business start-up support, and funding support for disabled corrective surgery. Today we regularly provide funding support not only for free mobility aids but also for corrective surgery, accessible toilets and bath facilities for the disabled, and also a variety of health and sanitation issues.

Have you been able to measure your impact since the initiative began?

Don: Over our 28-year track record, there have been enormous positive changes in Thailand – both in attitudes and assumptions about disabled persons, and also in terms of public and government awareness of disability issues and needs.

To date, the Foundation has already provided more than 5,700 free wheelchairs in addition to providing several thousand other disabled persons with a broad variety of free services including employment, housing, hospital support, educational support, and our continued hands-on home visit program.

How would you describe your fundraising philosophy?

Don: We have always insisted on remaining a hands-on personal facility as opposed to a bureaucracy of absentee paperwork with imposed and rigid rules.

Over the years we have received financial support from many sources, but primarily support from outside of Thailand. Only on rare occasions have we received financial support from the Thais, who traditionally prefer to provide support to the Buddhist clergy.

Currently a great deal of our financial support comes from very loyal, mostly private patrons in Europe, Australia, and the USA. At various times we have also received support from many foreign embassies located in Thailand and we receive donated mobility aids from the USA and Australia.

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What does the future hold for FEPDP?

Don: In order to remain sustainable, we have down-sized and streamlined much of our work. Today, through careful planning, the Foundation owns its own facilities, operates its own vehicles, and minimizes employees. Today, the Foundation is successfully managed by my Thai wife Piranan Singjai-Willcox,who is both a licensed Thai practical nurse and a trained physical therapist.

We want to find out more about Don Willcox

Don, please tell us more about yourself. 

Don: I spent much of my productive life as an author of craft, design, and folk tradition books in both the USA and in Scandinavia. I have also produced several publications on self-help solutions for disabled Persons as well as two children’s books.


Why did you choose to work in Thailand, and are you now a Thai citizen?

Don: No, I am not a Thai citizen, but am a long time 28-year full time resident. I decided to re-establish my focus in Thailand because of my love for Thai people, its culture, and because there was an urgent need for the services we provide.

What have been the biggest challenges in founding and running a nonprofit?

Don: For us the greatest challenge has been to watch how the simple act of humanitarian fund raising has metastasized into what too often appears to be a wasteful and self-serving bureaucracy where the goal has changed from humanitarian service to self-service. The saddest part of what we do is our financial inability to resolve disability problems that unfortunately remain unaddressed.

 

Is there anything you would do differently if you could do it again?

Don: Yes, I think I would do more to encourage Thai citizens to help Thais who suffer in preference to focusing on their own reincarnation security.


What advice and lessons can you share with other aspiring nonprofit founders?

Don: Just remember to get back up after you have fallen down. Stay focused and don’t give up.

Thank you, Don.

Visit Foundation to Encourage the Potential of Disabled Persons (FEPDP) : http://www.assistdisabled.org/

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