Cambodia: Wheelchairs Help Nurture the Rapport Between PWDs and Their Local Community

Since the year of 1992, the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, (AAR Japan), has provided assistance to people with disabilities (PWDs) in Cambodia. In 1994, AAR Japan set up a workshop to build wheelchairs and have supported it as one of the very few workplaces in Cambodia where staff are intensively engaged in the production of wheelchairs. Even after our leaving this workshop to be independent in 2006 as one of the local NGOs, that is “Association for Aid and Relief, Wheelchair for Development'' (WCD), AAR Japan is supporting their management and operation while paying deep respect to the independent status of the Cambodian staffs.

This report focuses on the follow-up visits to the people given wheelchairs made in this workshop to discuss how their lives have improved. Satomi MUKAI, a staff member of AAR Japan based in our Cambodia Office shares this report.
Mr. Sar Sophano, a chief staff of the workshop
WCD checks various recent situations
where assistance devices are used. (August 23th, 2019)

Attentive and meticulous support to meet the individual needs

WCD was founded in the precincts of National Rehabilitation Center in the suburb of Phnom Penh, where seven staff members currently work. Some of the staff have the harsh experience of getting injured and disabled by the explosion of mines during the civil war in the 1970’s.

At the workshop, workers build wheelchairs as requested by NGOs and governmental organizations which dispense helping hands to PWD’s. As well, as the production previously mentioned, each month the workshop produces approximately ten wheelchairs and rowing tricycles to be distributed free of charge to people who have limited access to any devices due to extreme indigence. WCD carries out assessment before their production because of their intention to provide wheelchairs which meet the individual situations of PWD’s. In the process of the assessment, they visit the houses of beneficiaries, confirm the precise sizes of their bodies and also do the check-ups of daily situations of their lives such as where they use assistance devices.

They carry out follow-ups after their distribution of the devices to those living in remote areas in an attempt to ensure the successful delivery of the devices and to help enable the beneficiaries to use the devices in the appropriate way.

Wheelchairs having brought about Changes

On August 23th, 2019, I accompanied Cambodian staff for the follow-up of beneficiaries who had received assistance devices from WCD some time ago. We visited three of the beneficiaries, who lived in the rural area of Kampong Speu Province approximately two hours from Phnom Penh.

The first person whom we met was Mr. Kong Von (age 55), to whom a wheelchair was delivered by WCD in 2016. He has been using it when moving in and around his house and neighborhood. We found that his daily use led to his wheelchair wheels twisting and the cloth on the back of the seat and wheelchair was in a worn-out condition. Then, staff member Mr. Son Samon repaired and replaced the damaged components with new materials he carried with him.

While speaking with the beneficiary, a director of the workshop Mr. Sar Sophano asked the beneficiary questions about his usage of his wheelchair and the situation of his daily life.

Mr. Kong Von, as a young child, sustained polio, and has had paralysis in his leg, which prevented him as a young man from willingly going out because of the sense of embarrassment. While AAR Japan established a vocational school in 1993 and has been operating it ever since.  Mr. Kong Von attended this school and acquired skills, which helped provide more opportunities for him while also building up his self-confidence.

He has been given support by WCD for more than 10 years, and he frequently goes on outings since the acquisition of a wheelchair. Now he is married and is a diligent worker with his own job.
Mr. Son Samon, a staffer of WCD efficiently repairs the broken wheelchair.
(August 23th, 2019)
Mr. Kong Von goes around his neighborhood by motorbike which is modified specifically for the PWD’s. He buys plastic bottles in his neighborhood and sells them to dealers. Some of his neighbors save their plastic bottles only for Mr. Kong Von instead of selling them to other buyers because they hoped to cheer him on. Also, as well as this business, he has been engaged in the repair of bikes and motorbikes at his house. His wheelchair not only enables him to move more smoothly and allows better accessibility to other places as a means of transportation but also makes a vital tool with which to support his close relationship with local residents and to expand his economic activities.

Mr. Kong Von’s wheelchair whose wheels are broken and cloth is worn-out.
(August 23th, 2019)

After the repair, it looks like an almost brand-new wheelchair
(August 23th, 2019)
The last person whom we visited this day was Mr. Chea Phalla (age 40), who was affected by the explosion of a mine when he was 11 years old. He was taking care of cows at that time. Now he knows that tools such as an artificial leg, a stick, a modified motorbike, and a wheelchair which is mainly for indoors use are all indispensable tools for daily living. The wheelchair was provided by WCD in 2014 and he has been using it with great care and close attention ever since. While using all these tools, Mr. Chea Phalla does the jobs of repairing household appliances and selling electric home products and also taking care of his mother and three children. “I have got involved in community activities from time to time, and maybe I would be with too much pep and cheer while being in those activities, with my family and neighbors” he said.

Mr. Sar Sophano, a chief staff of the workshop WCD and Satomi MUKAI (center) ask questions of Mr. Chea Phalla who uses an artificial leg, about his life and job for information. (August 23th, 2019)

A staff of WCD in charge of production of wheelchairs assembling a wheel for a wheelchair
(June 5th, 2019)

The role that AAR, WCD plays

As previously mentioned above, WCD checks how assistance devices have been used and maintained, and makes visits to check on the spot that there are no difficulties in their daily operation and also if necessary, provides quick repair to the devices of the beneficiaries. Furthermore, WCD carries out inquiries about schooling and working in an initiative to back PWD’s up for their participation in social activities, and offers information and refers them to the organizations concerned based on the individual needs and wishes of the beneficiaries. 

The Cambodian government has been promoting their project in which the work of the national rehabilitation centers situated in 11 places in Cambodia and operated by NGOs to date are being transferred to governmental authorities. They have been working on improvements of the system to ensure that all the PWD’s can have the opportunities of rehabilitation and master how to use their assistance devices in proper ways in various areas respectively. However, a worrisome situation in which underprivileged PWD’s have difficulties in terms of even joining health centers in each area composed of some villages, leads us to see the status quo that the Cambodian governmental support couldn’t be found sufficient enough. This fact allows WCD to conclude that it is necessary for WCD to visit each area and provide things such as assistance devices and repair services to the beneficiaries.

While trying hard to provide opportunities of capacity development for the staff and enhancement of their commitment to PWD’s, especially sustainability of the activities, AAR Japan intends to continue to provide  WCD future support also in an attempt to offer helping-hands to as many PWD’s as possible.

Satomi MUKAI, Cambodian Office

Since November 2013, Satomi MUKAI has been mainly in charge of initiatives in Cambodia at our Tokyo Head Office of AAR Japan. MUKAI has been based in Cambodia since March 2015. While working as a teacher of a junior high school in Japan and of a senior high school in China, MUKAI became interested in the problems but did not have the opportunity to learn- access to school. It was her interest in this situation that inspired her to complete an International Relations degree.
Satomi MUKAI was born in Aomori Prefecture.
(profile as of the date of the article)

Japanese-English translation by Ms. Motoko Komai
English editing by Ms. Dianne Gamage
This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.