Cambodia: Providing Pleasure of Going to School for Children with Disabilities

With Try-and-Error Efforts of Teachers

In Cambodia many children with disabilities cannot receive education even after they reach schooling age for various reasons. In Kandal Province, southern Cambodia, AAR Japan has been providing support to enable an increased number of children with disabilities to have access to education since April 2013.  An AAR staff member Tomoko SONODA reports.

To begin with, AAR built and renovated toilets in three primary schools to make them accessible by wheelchairs. It also carried out construction works to improve physical conditions of the schools, such as installing wheelchair ramps and paving walkways within the school grounds.
Pupils of Cheom Saren Primary School with Tomoko SONODA (right) in front of newly paved pathway in the school. (October 14th, 2013)

AAR then organized training programs for teachers in each school to increase their awareness and understanding of various disabilities. It also offered training for teachers on the use of relevant teaching materials which would facilitate the learning of children with disabilities. The training program included desired seat plans for children with disabilities, loudness of aural instructions for children with hearing disabilities, and the use of blackboard for weak-eye children. In their daily classes, many teachers who have attended the training are now making good use of what they have learnt.

One of the participants in the training program, Ms. Cheom Saren (teacher at Kor Cho Ram primary school), is in charge of a class in which there are several children with disabilities. After the training she became more attentive and effective at caring for children with disabilities and changed her way of speaking and communicating with them. She said, “Thanks to the training I now understand how to cope with matters which I’ve had difficulties in tackling before, such as how to explain to children with disabilities and how to best interact with them.  Pupils with disabilities are as eager to learn as other pupils.  I now want to help them learn well together with other children.”
Teacher Ms. Ny Rithyromny says that AAR’s teacher training program was helpful.  “I would like to continue to foster pupils’ wish to learn,” she says. (February 27th, 2014)
Mr. Ny Rithyromny (8 years old) is with hearing disabilities and sits in the most front row in the classroom.  As the teacher speaks clearly and slowly, he looks happy and says, “I can now comprehend better than before.” (January 13th, 2014)

“Yes, I can.” Fosters Self Confidence.

Teacher Ms. Luy Sophon (right), in charge of Mr. Ny Virak’s class, says “Having participated in AAR’s teacher training, I now interact with children with disabilities with a sense of affection.” (February 27th, 2014)
At the three primary schools, AAR also provides wheelchairs and other supporting equipment, as well as physical rehabilitation and medical treatment support. With the supporting equipment, children with disabilities can study more effectively, and with rehabilitation programs they increase what they can do by themselves, all of which contribute to their self-confidence and esteem.
Mr. Ny Virak ( 8 years old) is at first grade in Prek Ta Mek primary school.  Because he has had no arms since birth, he has been taking notes on a small blackboard beneath his desk in chalk using his foot. When AAR offered a chair equipped with a footrest, he was pleased, saying that it made taking notes much easier.  He looked happy and said, “The school is joyful, and thanks to the barrier-free construction works I can move and act easily in the school.”  Teacher Luy Sophon, in charge of Mr. Ny Virak’s class, said “Before, I had difficulty in teaching children with disabilities. Greatly helped by the teacher training, I now interact with them and support their study with a sense of affection.”
Mr. Ny Virak(8 years old) has no arm from his birth.  Previously, he took notes beneath the desk on a small blackboard, which seemed difficult.
When AAR provided a chair equipped with a footrest, Mr. Ny Virak said, “With this, writing is much easier.” (February 21st, 2014)

Involving Local People

In order for children with disabilities to have an opportunity for education, the local people’s understanding and cooperation are as indispensable as those of the schools’.  Late September last year, prior to the new school year, we conducted a campaign to promote education for school-aged children in the three villages where AAR runs its project.  Many primary school pupils gathered and paraded the villages, highlighting the importance of education for children with disabilities by putting up placards and handing out leaflets which read: “Entering school for children with disabilities will enhance human resources of the village,” “Every child, regardless of whether he/she is with disabilities, has a right to education,” etc.
Primary school pupils paraded the village, calling “Let all children, regardless of whether they are with disabilities or not, have the opportunity to go to school!” (September 20th, 2013)

AAR also organized events to increase the local people’s awareness of Cambodian laws and regulations concerning persons with disabilities. Primary school children played skits, or short performances, on the theme of education, employment, medical care or rehabilitation. At a skit on the theme of education, for example, two pairs of a mother and her child appear on the stage, where one of the child is disabled while the other isn’t. The able-bodied child goes to a school with his mother for school enrollment while the other disabled child pleas with his own mother, “I also want to go to school!”  The mother responds, “You are handicapped. What is the use of your going to school?”  This concludes the skit.  The participants are then asked to discuss among themselves what they thought about the skit.  After discussion, the facilitator (an AAR local staff member) explains that children with disabilities also have a right to receive education and that it is stipulated by Cambodian law.
We organized an event to deepen understanding about persons with disabilities using skits.  Skits were eagerly played by children and highly appreciated by the local people. (November 22nd, 2013)

Through the skit, important laws can be explained in a free and easy way informally.  Skit is a very effective way for sharing information, through which participants themselves think and learn with keen interest.  The children played very well at the skit.  The skit was favorably received by the local people as well, including family members of children with disabilities. 
I feel happy whenever I hear “thank you!” for our support activities from children with disabilities, their guardians and teachers.  However, in Cambodia, still only a handful of children with disabilities can receive such support.  AAR will carry out these programs in larger communities, and continue our efforts to increase the number of schools where all the children can go and study with merry smiles, regardless of whether they are with or without disabilities.

Tomoko SONODA, AAR Japan Cambodia Office (profile as of the date of the article)
After graduating from a university, worked in a diplomatic establishment abroad before studying development education in the United Kingdom.  Afterwards, engaged in school management in Cambodia for two years as a member of JOCV (Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers), then joined AAR Japan in May, 2011.  “I would like to do what I can do now, one by one, for children with disabilities.”  Ms. Sonoda is from Yamaguchi Prefecture.