Wednesday, June 17, 2015

See ability, not disability!

By Sam Waller


© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
26-year-old Mary directs the shooting of her film using sign language, during the UNICEF One Minutes Junior workshop in Kampot

KAMPOT, Cambodia, 17th June 2015: There is an infectious enthusiasm in the air, in a small community on the outskirts of Kampot town. Suddenly the hubbub of voices dies down as the director’s voice cuts through the air. “Quiet please! Camera rolling…..action!”


A student behind the camera films three people sitting on the porch of a small house. Two of them hold a loud conversation in Khmer, but the girl in the middle is completely excluded. That girl is 26-year-old Mary - who has been deaf since birth - and this is her film. As a deaf child growing up in Cambodia, communication was extremely difficult for Mary. She did not have the opportunity to learn any sign language until she was 12, and started with only ten words. Before that she could barely communicate with anyone, including her four sisters and four brothers. Even in such a large household, she felt alone.

Mary explains how difficult life was for her as a child. “I felt scared when people looked at me and I was very shy. I just stayed at home, which was like a prison. I couldn’t communicate with anyone.” 

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
One Minutes Junior workshop facilitator Judith helps Mary to find the right shot

Fast forward a decade and Mary is a confident and expressive young woman. She has been a student at inclusive arts organization Epic Arts since 2009 and is now part of Epic Encounters – the first inclusive contemporary performance company in South East Asia. Being empowered to learn and express herself has had a transformational effect on Mary. “Now I feel very confident!” she says with a big smile.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
Mary and her fellow students check their footage during the training element of the workshop

Mary’s film is part of UNICEF’s One Minutes Junior workshop, which gives young people the opportunity to design, film and edit their own movie. The students work together in teams taking turns to direct, film and act. At the end of their week their films – each exactly one minute long – will be screened at a special event and shared around the world via the internet. Mary is determined that her film will help to challenge the stigmatization and exclusion of people with disabilities in Cambodia.

© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Sam Waller
That's a wrap! Mary and her team mates celebrate another successful shot

“I want people to know what it can be like to be deaf. I want my film to help people to understand and respect people with disabilities. I want to stop discrimination against deaf people.” Mary’s abilities as a dancer and performer with Epic Encounters have taken her around Cambodia, giving performances and leading workshops. Her talent has also enabled her to dance in Australia, Singapore and the UK. Her film will be yet another way that this remarkable young woman will challenge people to see ability, not disability.

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