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Disability isn’t a barrier for Sokchea

For children born with disability in rural Cambodia, their parents often fear they will be left behind and try to conceal their child’s disability. Sokchea, 16, was born into a poor family in Battambang province. She was born with physical and intellectual disability.

“She had a poor memory,” said her mother, Vy, a widow with six children. “She would often lose her temper and act aggressively against me. She started school two years later than everyone else and I find it hard to be optimistic about her education.”

Sokchea’s physical disability made attending school difficult. “I was terrified when I first started school because people were afraid of me, and I was bullied. I didn’t want to go to school anymore,” she said.

ChildFund Cambodia is working with local organisations and authorities to help improve the lives of children with disabilities through the Disability Empowerment and Education Project (DEEP). The project seeks to empower children with disability to be confident in claiming their rights, particularly to an education. It also works with teachers, parents, local decision-makers so that children with a disability are prioritised in community plans.

“The project started in my school in 2020 and it helped change the way my teachers and parents saw children with disability. It taught them not to discriminate against them but to care for them. Parents were more comfortable bringing their children to school and we currently have 13 students with some form of disability enrolled here,” said Mr. Som, the principal at Sokchea’s school.  

“I told my students not to discriminate against those with disabilities,” said one teacher. “I strive to integrate students with and without disabilities, so that they can learn and play together.”

Because of the efforts from her teacher to create a friendly, safe classroom for Sokchea, she now has friends and enjoys school. “No one wanted to play with me or even sit with me before, but now I have a close pal. During recess, she always plays with me. I’m in such a good mood that I want to go to school every day,” she said.

Through the project Sokchea and other children with a disability can meet with local authorities and decision-makers to express the challenges that they face in the community and put forward solutions to these issues.

In the year since the project began, it has supported children with disability to attend school, gain the confidence to make their voices heard by decision-makers and support them to achieve their full potential in society.

Over the next three years the project will help 230 children with disability across two districts in the Battambang Province. ChildFund is working with two local organisations, Cambodian Disabled People Organization (CDPO) and Khmer NGO for Education (KHEN) to implement the project.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

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