Monday, December 31, 2018

A commune council determined to help children with disabilities go to school

By Coline Dumoulin,

Rocham Thai, with her brother Rocham Brek, her father Kway Khean and her mother Rocham Ngel
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Coline Dumoulin

Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia, December 2018: In the remote village of Tien in Ratanakiri province, Rocham Thai proudly writes in Khmer her name, age and class on her notebook. The 12-year-old Tampoun girl is deaf-mute, but it does not prevent her from getting access to education. She has just started Grade 4 but is already planning on continuing her studies up to higher education with the support of her parents and of the commune. She shares this common dream with her little brother, Rocham Brek, 10 years old, who is also deaf-mute and who started Grade 1 this year. Unable to walk since his birth, the life of Rocham Brek changed in April 2018 when the village chief got in contact with an organization who offered the young boy physical rehabilitation in Kratie.

In the commune, 15 children with disabilities are currently enrolled in state pre-schools and community pre-schools (CPS). Not only contributing to early childhood development, CPS teachers are also a great support for children with disabilities. Having received a training on inclusive education, they are able to assess the special needs of children with disabilities but also to provide informed observations and feedbacks. Thanks to this training, Ting Bill, CPS teacher in Leu Kuon village has been able to identify the sources of her students’ difficulties. After observing and running a series of simple tests with Sal Noeun, one of her students, she realized that the young boy could not see from far. 

Sal Noeun, with his grand-mother Sal Yean and Ting Bill, the CPS teacher
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Coline Dumoulin
When the Provincial Health Department came to conduct eye's check, as part of a programme called "Pre-school screening on visual, hearing and malnutrition", supported by the UNICEF Child Survival and Development section, Ting Bill sent Sal Noeun for a consultation. She quickly received the confirmation that he was short-sighted.

Today, the six-year-old boy is in Grade 1, proudly wearing his glasses. His case is not unique as vision problems are quite common among children in this community. Aware of the fact that it undermines children’s development, the commune is planning to support three children to get glasses.

Commune council of Keh Chong commune: Vy Hing, CFPWC; Keo Rida, commune clerk and Romas Pleang, commune chief (from left to right)
© UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Coline Dumoulin
Providing education for all is one of the goals of Keh Chong commune. Since they have attended the training on the Social Service Implementation Manual (SSIM) supported by UNICEF and the Ministry of Interior, the members of the commune council of Keh Chong have been extremely busy planning activities to help the most vulnerable households. Within the 2019 Commune Investment Plan, they have identified six activities to help people with disabilities such as conducting a community awareness campaign on disability rights, providing school material for children with disabilities or organizing a vocational training for people with disabilities. Romas Pleang, the commune chief of Keh Chong is a firm believer in education: “Instead of asking their children to collect cashew nuts, parents need to bring them to community pre-schools where they can learn while playing” he said. Commune’s activities have already shown some results. It is thanks to the community awareness campaign conducted in October by the commune to promote inclusive education that Kway Khean, the father of Rocham Brek, decided to send his son to primary school.

The commune council understands that it is challenging to help children with disabilities getting access to quality education. Local schools and teachers do not always have the capacities to address the needs of children with disabilities. Additionally, Keh Chong commune may lack access to information about existing services that are more equipped to address these needs. When told by UNICEF staff about the existence of an educational institution for deaf-mute children in Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh, Kway Kehan, the father of Thai and Brek did not get scared: “If this is the only chance my children can pursue their studies, they should go to Kampong Cham or Phnom Penh,” he affirmed. In parallel, the commune chief has promised to check this institution and explore funding possibilities through scholarships and development partners, so that these children can access quality education.

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