In Cambodia’s under-resourced public education system, schools do generally not have the means to provide children living with intellectual disabilities such as Down Syndrome, an education that helps them develop to their fullest potential. As a result, scores of Cambodian children with disabilities miss out on school altogether. Most of these children come from the poorest households in the country, which makes their situation all the more precarious. But thanks to a project run by Aide et Action Cambodia and its partner Rabbit School, children like 8-year-old Kumpheak have been able to also reap the benefits of a quality education suited to their specific needs.
Kumpheak (8) lives with her sister Nary (4) and their mum Sokhom (44) in Pouk district, Siem Reap province, home to the famous Angkor Wat temples. Their father works as a porter in Poipet on the border with Thailand, and can only visit home once a month. Every now and then, Sokhom works as a cook in her brother-in-law’s small catering business, but she cannot work regularly because she has to look after the children, in particular Kumpheak, who needs extra special care from her mum. Sokhom explains: “Kumpheak did not want to stay with anyone else but me, not even with her grandmother. I have tried to enroll her in many public schools in the area, but none of them have taken her in. That’s why I’ve been unable to go to work regularly, and that makes the situation very difficult for our family. My husband’s small salary is not enough for us to cover our daily expenses.”
Getting Kumpheak into School
Two years ago, staff from the Rabbit School, Aide et Action’s partner for our project that brings schooling to children with disabilities, visited Sokhom at home to discuss the possibility of enrolling Kumpheak in one of its integrated classes. An integrated class is a specialized class fro children with disabilities happening on the campus of a regular public school, thanks to support by the project. At that stage, Sokhom was not convinced yet that would work because Kumpheak always wanted to be with her. Then Aide et Action staff took Sokhom to visit an integrated class and see the activities and kids there with her own eyes. That’s when Sokhom changed her mind and felt confident to enroll Kumpheak in the project’s integrated class.
The First Steps
At first, it was difficult for Kumpheak to get used to the school environment. During the first 2 months, she cried a lot and always wanted to go back home with her mum. “I have cried too when I saw my child crying and wanting to come home with me”, admits Sokhom. “I still had my doubts. But then one day at the end of the school day, she waved at me and said “hello!”, which touched me so deeply. She had never ever said that in her life before! For me that was enough proof that my Kumpheak was getting a quality education in that integrated class and that she was making good progress”, adds Sokhom proudly.
Thriving & Enjoying the Change
And since then, Kumpheak has not stopped making progress. She can now eat her meals, go to the toilet and have a shower all on her own. She can also read and write the Khmer alphabet. And she gets along very well with the other children at school, and her grandmother at home. This all means that Sokhom can now finally go to work regularly and earn a living. “Kumpheak will keep going to school as long as she keeps making progress. Everything is going fine with her, but ultimately, I do not know how long that will continue, and what she will do when she grows up. Her future is still uncertain. But in any case, I am really happy that she is making such good progress both at school and at home. And I can go to work now and earn a living, so things have improved for our whole family”, says Sokhom.
In 2018, thanks to our project “Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities”, we enrolled 247 new children with disabilities into education, and assisted our partners in retaining 533 children in education for the full school year through improved teaching methods and the use of relevant pedagogical tools in the classrooms. We assisted 166 children with disabilities with scholarship packages, 10 with transportation services, 86 with nutrition and 12 with the needed assistive devices ensuring they could come to school. And we provided 44 teachers with training, coaching events, lectures and meetings to ensure they are well-equipped to provide a quality education to children with disabilities.