Seila is challenging disability stereotypes in Cambodia
Seila, aged 15, was born into a poor family in rural Cambodia. Both is parents are farmers who work hard to earn just money to provide for Seila and his younger brother. Like other boys his age, Seila is cheeky, curious and enjoys spending time outside playing with his friends.
When Seila was nine years old, he developed a cyst on hip that caused him lot of pain. His mother took him to the local hospital so they could remove it.
After the surgery, he still experienced him pain which radiated down his leg, weakening it and making it difficult for him to sleep and walk. For a while he used a crutch to help him walk but was too big and hurt his arm.
Because of this, Seila was unable to walk or ride his bike to school 10km away from his home. He relied on his friend to pick him up on his bike and take him to school. Over time his attendance dropped and, academically, he fell behind his classmates.
“It was unacceptable to me. I cried when the doctor told me that he would not be able to walk normally,” said Seila’s mother, Soksan, tearfully.
ChildFund Cambodia believes every child and young person has the right to equally participate in society and live with dignity and respect.
ChildFund provided financial support for an operation to correct his hip and leg pain. This was part of a project to support children living with disabilities to be able to access the healthcare they needed. Despite this, his leg never fully recovered.
“Knowing that one of my legs might not be able to function normally made me both afraid and sad. I experienced discrimination at school, my friends no longer want to play with me, and they act rudely when I ask them to buy me a snack at break time. They occasionally mimic me,” said Seila.
The Disability Empowerment and Education Project (DEEP) run by ChildFund advocates for children living with different types of disabilities. ChildFund uses a questionnaire as part of the project to identify children who live with either a physical or intellectual disability.
Then parents, teachers and community leaders take part in a training on how to best support those children through education and making sure the community has the infrastructure needed to make it accessible.
The project also gave parents and kids with disabilities the chance to meet with local officials so they could talk about or request assistance from them directly.
“My son might not have been able to walk again without the project,” said Soksan. “Last year, through the project I joined a community forum, and they supported me to get the brace for Seila.”
“Now, there is far less discrimination against other people with a disability. My friends know more about my disability and how to support me. They even encourage me to attend class every day. They tell me not to give up because I can achieve anything anyone else can,” said Seila
With the aid of a brace, Seila can now walk on his own and feels more valued by his community and hopeful about the future.
“Now that I’m going to school more, I studied better and placed sixth out of 28 students this year. I want to be a teacher when I grow up so that future generations, especially those living with a disability, can benefit from education as I have,” said Seila with a bright smile.