Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Simple measures, big changes for Cambodian children living with disability

By Rin Ream

Sun Chhea and her daughter Chivchay, who has cerebral palsy, in front of their home in Prey Veng Province
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Rin Ream

Eight-year-old Chivchay lives with her mother Sun Chhea in Thnalchey, a rural village in Prey Veng Province along Cambodia’s border with Vietnam. Sitting in a trolley, Chivchay smiles as a way of saying hello. She has severe cerebral palsy, and communicates by making noises that few outside of her family can understand. She relies on her mother or relatives to move around on her trolley. Though her condition is a difficult one, she is lucky to have a good mother and a supportive community. 

Chhea is 28 years old and has two daughters. The family lives in a small bamboo house built on a piece of land owned by her mother; Chhea’s husband left the family in June. The local commune council has certified the family as ‘very poor’ based on the Ministry of Planning’s Identification of Poor Households program. But in Cambodia, poor families facing disability like Chhea’s do not have access to social support services, leaving Chhea to manage this challenging situation on her own.

Chhea faces many difficulties in her life, but she is a fighter. She does everything she can to provide proper care and love for her two daughters. Every morning, she gets up early to prepare porridge for the family and then goes to the field to collect grass for her cattle and vegetables from trees and ponds to sell at the market.

“These are my ways to make income just to make a living and feed my children. My life is tough. I have to feed the whole family alone and take special care of my daughter with disability,” Chhea says.

Chhea prepares groceries to sell in her community
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Rin Ream

But now, Chhea’s life is changing. After receiving a small grant (US$290) in April to drive income generation as part of the Disability Rights Initiative-Cambodia, a joint Australian Government-United Nations program to improve quality of life for children with disability and their families, she opened a modest grocery stall in her community.

She sells groceries and packaged food to neighbours and family members, who are happy to purchase the goods knowing that she and her children, especially Chivchay, are in great need. With this extra income, Chhea and her daughters’ lives are improving.

“I am really thankful for this small financial assistance to enable me to make a better living and help my small children,” Chhea says.

Chhea, here with her youngest daughter Sreyvin, hopes her hard work will result in a better life for her family
© UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Rin Ream

Chhea’s is one of 484 families in Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Kandal provinces and in the capital of Phnom Penh who have benefited so far this year from the Disability Rights Initiative. In addition to supporting income-generating activities, the programme also provides home-based rehabilitation services, advice on home exercise to caretakers and provision of trolleys/wheelchairs.

With renewed confidence, Chea has big plans for her family’s future. She wants to have a bigger shop near the main road so that she can sell more things. “I am saving money to build a bigger bamboo shop in front of my house where I will have a space for my daughter Chivchay,” she says. “So far, I have saved 400,000 riels (US$99). With this, I hope to send my younger daughter Sreyvin to preschool next year. More money will also give me more time to help Chivchay exercise everyday as I won’t have to work as long hours. I am very happy to wait and see what my future holds,” she adds.

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