Monday, November 26, 2012

With UNICEF support, young UXO survivor rebuilds his life

Sokheng rides to school on a bicycle provided with UNICEF support.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Plong Chhaya
Three years ago Phorn Sokheng was a happy and  bright student at his primary school in Chhoeu Tiel village in Sampov Loun district of Battambang province (northwest Cambodia). Aged 9 he liked nothing more than playing with toy cars, especially dismantling and reassembling them. This pastime was to change his life.

“One day,” says Sokheng, “I saw a white object on the ground close to my house. I thought it was a tractor’s spare part and I decided to pick it up and take it to school. During the break I was sitting at a school bench with a couple of my friends and I was very curious and pulled something out of the object. Then there was a blast. The shape and colour were not the same as any landmine or UXOs which I had been shown by teachers when they taught us about mine risk education.”

Landmines are Cambodia’s legacy of three decades of internal and regional conflicts.  As a result there are at least 40,000 amputees - one of the highest rates in the world. It is estimated that many of the young people in Cambodia with disabilities are survivors of landmine and UXO accidents. With Japan Committee of UNICEF funding, UNICEF works with the Royal Government of Cambodia and the NGO Operation Enfant Du Cambodge (OEC), to strengthen the country’s social welfare system and support children disabled as a result of landmine accidents in Cambodia.

This support kicked into action when Sokheng was injured. Local authorities informed his parents about the accident and Operation Enfant Du Cambodge arranged for emergency medical treatment. Sokheng’s father Meas Noun, describes what happened next. “With the help from local authorities and the NGO named OEC, my son was immediately transferred to a referral district hospital. We were working at our farm at the time of incident. After hearing this bad news we cried and then ran for a motorbike taxi. When we arrived to the operational district hospital, we saw our son body covered with full of blood and could not talk any more. I didn’t think that he would survive because both of his hands were completely destroyed and were bleeding.” 

Sokheng was hospitalized for two weeks. Transportation for follow-up visits and referral to the Battambang Physical Rehabilitation Centre for the fitting of prosthetic limbs were made possible with UNICEF support and funding from the Japan Committee for UNICEF.  His parents, meanwhile, were shown how to provide Sokheng with home-based care.

“We were trained on how to [help him] regain his mobility and daily activities,” says Mr. Meas. “My son can now manage activities like washing face, brushing teeth, eating, drinking, going to toilet and [putting on] clothes.”
After receiving physical rehabilitation, Sokheng enjoyed going back to school.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2012/Plong Chhaya
Following his recovery from the accident Sokheng did not want to return to school because he did not think he would be able to write or play with his friends again. However, encouraged by his parents, local authorities and staff of Operation Enfant Du Cambodge, he rejoined his classmates and within three months had learned how write again, both with and without his prosthesis.

Now aged 12 and in grade five, Sokheng can ride a bicycle to school. The vehicle was provided with UNICEF support as part of the project to rehabilitate children with disabilities and assist them to continue their education.

Having been fully reintegrated in school, Sokhneg’s school friends are full of admiration for him. Says 11 year old, Chear Sokroeurn, “I have been a friend of Sokheng for 10 years, and noted that he is a smart kid. I am amazed to see him ride a bicycle with confidence, play games well and write text in the class. I like him very much.” Another friend, Seng Sokly (aged 11) adds, “I am his neighbour and also his classmate. He is nice and likes joking with friends. Before, we did not feel comfortable when touching his hands. Now we understand and we like to play with him.”

Sokheng says that he used to have nightmares, “Many times, I dreamed I had my hands back, but when I wake up, I see nothing different.” As he continues to adjust to life with a disability he speaks with hope of his situation and future plans, “My favorite subject is mathematics and I want to be a teacher when I grow up. At school, I play with my school mates and they like to play with me without any discrimination.”

By Plong Chhaya

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