Cambodia: Learning Together with Children with Disabilities – Support for School-aged Children in Cambodia

Since 1992, AAR Japan has been carrying out various relief activities in Cambodia, including vocational training for persons with disabilities and the production/distribution of wheelchairs. In April 2013, we launched a new project to provide opportunity for education to every child regardless of whether they are with disabilities or not.

Prek Tameak Primary School’s grounds. Entrance to the classroom requires ascending steep stairs. (April 24th, 2013)

To Enable Every Child to Learn
In recent years, Cambodia has seen a growth in the rights of children with disabilities to share the same classroom as their able-bodied friends, as well as the protection of these rights. In 2009, initial plans for the implementation of inclusive education were decided; however, things have not progressed as planned. The government is still falling behind when it comes to comprehending the sheer number of school-aged children with disabilities and their needs, while developments for making roads and schools universally accessible are lagging behind. In addition to this, the spread of specialised methods of teaching catered towards children with disabilities have remained stagnant. Even to this day, the harsh reality is filled with these children without a chance to receive quality education.

How Can Children with Disabilities Learn Together?
From April 2013, AAR Japan has been carrying out activities in three areas of Kandal Province, which surrounds the capital city of Phnom Penh, in order to promote inclusive education. Three primary schools (one in each area) will be renovated to facilitate students with physical disabilities, such as installation of wheelchair ramps, accessible toilets, and paving of walkways within school grounds. At present, negotiations with the schools and construction workers for the finalisation of the building plans are progressing.
Teacher training is also being carried out, focusing on the basic concepts of disabilities, specialised teaching methods for the disabled children, and the motivations behind inclusive education. At the same time, information is being gathered in each area in regards to the problems associated with the number of disabled children and conditions for entering school, as well as the sponsoring of mobility aids such as wheelchairs and walkers, and the introduction of various welfare services. Additionally, activities aimed at raising awareness toward disabilities and the importance of education are being carried out.

The members of our Cambodia office, which opened in April. From left: Nou Srey OUN, Cheng CHANDY, and Lim  SOVANNAROTH. On the right is AAR Japan’s international staff member Tomoko SONODA. At the age of 10, Cheng CHANDY lost his right arm and three fingers on his left hand due to an unexploded ordnance accident. “Despite only a few number of NGO’s supporting inclusive education, we will do our best so that children with disabilities can also receive an education,” he says. (June 19th, 2013)
Government Officials, School Staff, Local People Coming Together As One
AAR Japan staff members are not the only participants in the project - a Working Group has been formed to tackle the issues and carry out activities, consisting of representatives from local disabled people’s organizations, Kandal Province education office, district education office,  schools, along with the guardians of children with disabilities.
Over the course of four days in mid-June, we carried out a training session for 15 members of the Working Group. The participants learnt many things about disabilities through  workshops and lectures, including the definition and model, related international treaties, domestic laws and policies, types/causes/prevention of disabilities, purpose and thoughts on inclusive education, and methods of conducting surveys in the area. On the last day, all the participants gathered to plan future activities that are to be carried out.

The participating members introducing themselves on the first day of training. SONODA’s greeting in the Khmer language was met with huge applause. (June 19th, 2013) 
Staff member Lim SOVANNAROTH (centre) also takes part. The event proceeded in a peaceful atmosphere. (June 20th, 2013)
Making good friends at the training. The Working Group’s teamwork also proves successful. (June 20th, 2013)

I want this project to help children realise their own potential” (Nhean DAVUT, representative of a disabled people’s organization)
Nhean DAVUT holds a private English class at his home.
“Even if disabled children are given the chance to receive education, they are not given the required consideration and maintenance for their learning environment. As a result, they cannot make full use of the opportunity given to them. Our recent training has been extremely beneficial, for everyone involved. The children study and grow every day, and can further expand their potential should they be given support from the adults around them, such as family and teachers. I hope AAR Japan’s activities will help them to focus on their own potentials rather than their disabilities.”

 I want to encourage teachers and the larger community” (Saron SOCHIET, Koh Churum Primary School headmistress)
The headmistress of Koh Churum Primary School, Saron SOCHIET (right)
“We have disabled children at our school, and we try our best to accommodate them. However, until now, there hasn’t been much chance to really consider their individual needs so I’m truly grateful for such initiatives. I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend the training, where we learnt about new concepts such as the ideology and meaning behind inclusive education. As a member of the Working Group, and also as a headmistress, I hope to motivate teachers and the residents in the area, and work to help achieve our goals.”

In Cambodia, prejudice against the disabled still remains strong, with the notion that disability is a form of punishment for indiscretions from their past life. By giving these disabled children a chance for an education, especially those encountering such prejudices, will be able to see their abilities and potential, which would help in changing their ways of thinking. We will push forward with these activities in order for these children with disabilities to be recognised as members of society, receive an education, and for them to maximise their own potential.

* These activities are being carried out thanks to many of your generous donations, and
Japan’s Postal Savings for International Voluntary Aid.

Tomoko SONODA, AAR Japan Cambodia office
Responsible for managing overseas operations from our Tokyo office since May 2011. After graduating from university, worked in overseas diplomatic roles before studying Development Education in the United Kingdom. Afterwards, went to Cambodia for two years to participate in the running of school (as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer), then joined AAR. Originally from Yamaguchi Prefecture.