Visually-handicapped children play in the first 'blind orchestra' in Thailand

THAILAND - A group of visually-handicapped children in Thailand have become the first to play in a "blind orchestra".

The children feel music scores written in Braille, and memorise scales, news agency AFP reported.

The group is made up of players aged between eight and 15 years old, and offers a rare positive platform for disabled people in a country where impairment is seen as karma for "misdeeds" in a past life, the AFP report on Sunday.

The orchestra was formed by professional classical musician Alongkot Chukaew, whose day job is looking after elephants at the Khao Yai national park in north-eastern Thailand.

Mr Chukaew first met the children when they attended his conservation class at the park

Teaching with the help of audible aids, including his guitar, the 43-year-old observed that music caught the attention of the children, AFP reported.

Mr Chukaew introduced a Braille system for his students to learn to read classical music.

He also showed them how to place their fingers on their instruments.

The children memorise both the notes and the correct placement to make the right sounds.

"It was hard because they cannot see the demonstration of where to put their fingers or hold the bows," Mr Chukaew told AFP.

He added however that it was fun and that the children were happy.

"At first it was really hard for me... I wanted to stop. But when I realised that others could do it, I gave it another try," Joe, a 14-year-old cello player from the orchestra, told AFP. He has been playing the instrument for nine months.

Official figures show that there are around 180,000 blind people in Thailand, the report added.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg