Makara who has just woken up from his nap gives a big smile.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Chansereypich Seng
He greeted the staff with an adorable smile. The seven-year-old boy toddled happily toward the living space of the house with help from his parents.
Makara has been affected by Cerebral Palsy (CP) since birth. CP is a condition caused by damage to the brain during its development, challenging individuals to function in everyday life due to negative impact on muscle coordination and physical development. In Makara’s case, he could only crawl until last year, when he stood on his own for the first time at the age of six.
In addition, Makara has been having seizures since he was three months old, and was sent to a hospital in Phnom Penh after four months to get a diagnosis.
After identifying his condition, epilepsy, Mrs. Oum, Makara’s mother, had to go back and forth between the hospital and home to acquire Makara’s medicines. However, his medications did not do much to help him. Makara often had epileptic episodes, which weakened him and prevented him from actively participating in everyday life activities.
In 2012, Makara’s parents first heard about Kien Kleang Rehabilitation Centre, supported by VIC, which provides rehabilitation services to persons and children with disabilities, with an emphasis on poor families in Kandal province.
“I heard about the centre from many people, so I decided to take Makara there”, Mrs. Oum said.
Since then, Makara has received services and assistive devices from the rehabilitation centre such as treatments from a physical therapist as well as a round walker to help him move around more easily.
It is quite a long way from their home to the rehabilitation centre – around three hours each way.
The distance has not deterred Makara’s parents from taking their only son to the centre. But distance can be a major barrier to accessing important support services for children with disabilities from low income families and those who lack means of transportation, like Makara’s.
To address a need for quality services for children with disabilities, UNICEF supports partners such as VIC through the Disability Rights Initiative Cambodia, with funding from the Australian Government.
While lack of data on children with disabilities remains a challenge in Cambodia, it is estimated that anywhere between two to 10 per cent of children have a disability. Children with disabilities are often more vulnerable, experience discrimination, face lack of services and have less opportunities to develop to their full potential.
That’s why UNICEF is partnering with VIC to support home-based rehabilitation services since 2015. Home-based care allows service providers to reach families who cannot travel to locations where the services are available. It is also a way to empower parents to care for their children at home on a regular basis.
The VIC project specifically focuses on children with Cerebral Palsy and Spinal Cord Injuries, where physical therapists go to their homes every month to provide physical treatments and check if families need any specialized equipment.
Physical therapists explain to parents the importance of family support to children with disabilities, both physically and emotionally. As guided, Makara’s parents regularly massage his muscles, teach him how to talk, to sit, and most importantly, to never lose hope.
Makara smiled as he stood on his own, and soon toddled back to his father.
© UNICEF Cambodia/2017/Chansereypich Seng
By the end of 2017, the VIC project has provided services to approximately 800 children with cerebral palsy or spinal cord injuries.
With support from VIC, care from family and his own perseverance, Makara’s condition has become much better compared to six years ago.
“He can eat and take a shower by himself sometimes. He walks step by step, often falls down, but he keeps getting up”, Mrs. Oum said.
“At dawn, he always walks around the village to stretch his muscles and I accompany him. He is really hopeful”, she continued.
Mr. Sear, Makara’s father, said with giggle, “If he can walk around freely and fully, I will host a party and invite the whole village.”
Makara is also passionate about learning. He is now a first grader at a faith-based school near home where he attends every morning with the help of his father.
In order to stay with Makara every day, his father quit his job as a construction worker. He now farms near their home. His mother is also a farmer, and sells vegetables at a market nearby.
Despite these challenges, with the progress Makara is making each day, the family never loses hope or fails to smile.