Ratha Natra was abandoned at Kanthak Bophar Hospital by his parents in 2001. Seven years later he was in very poor condition and referred to a nutrition center.“He was not able to walk or talk. He could not understand pictures. He could not use the toilet or get dressed,” remembers Hun Touch, a mediator for Rabbit School Organization: a Cambodian association that supports extremely disadvantaged children and develops appropriate formal education programs for children with multiple and severe disabilities.“He was so skinny, even after years of treatment. He was critically sick and had brain surgery twice already.”
Natra was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a mental disorder.Children with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups in Cambodia, and are the least likely to go to school. Less than 10% of children and youth with disabilities have access to any form of education.
Natra could benefit from a range ofeducational and therapeutic activities that are now funded by Educate A Child (EAC) Foundation through the Cambodian Consortium for Out of School Children led by Aide et Action Cambodia. He started in 2008 in a special class for children with disabilities at Rabbit School Organization.
Hun Touch explains: “Ratra had many behavioral issues. He had very poor fine and gross motor skills. He was not able to speak or pay attention. He could not do simple tasks like walking or getting dressed.” To address these specific needs, Ratra’s teachers and caregivers used various solutions. “To attract his attention, we used a primary reward such as a biscuit. We also used games such as puzzles, color books, painting… to improve his motor skills. A baby walker helped him to stand and walk. We also used some pictures so he could express himself and say what kind of food or games he liked.”
In 2012, Natra enrolled in Toul Kok primary school where he learnt to read and write some words. He learnt to speak, although only with three-word sentences and gestures. He does not like using pictures to communicate. He can also make simple calculations.
On 27 October 2014, he has been enrolled for the 2014-2015 academic year. He has just started classes with other non-disabled children. Inclusive education alongside less disadvantaged children helps to fightagainst discrimination and build mutual respect. The interaction between children serves to build their self-reliance and self-confidence, which are two very important aspects in one’s ability to live a normal life in spite of differences.
Today, Natra is healthy and strong. He enjoys reproducing his teachers’ handwriting in his own notebooks. He also can walk by himself. “He likes to help care givers and teachers! He helps to clean the table, sweep the floor or help his friends to go to the toilets!” explains Hun Touch. “He is an amazing little boy.”Although Natra has only just started his formal academic journey, his caregivers strongly hope he will join vocational training and job placementby next year. “Natra is unsure about what he would like to do in the future. But some teachers here are confident he could be a teacher or a driver”says Touch.