Disabled youth enabled with help

People were applauding and cheering to welcome the starting of a comedy show. Shouting loudly, a slender brown skin boy appears in the spotlight on the stage in his girlie Khmer traditional clothes. The noise of laughing explodes from the audience as the boy continues performing his role as a lady boy. Despite of his talent, the plastic legs he is wearing does not rip away the joys from the show.

A SEALNet member co-playing guitar with disabled youth from Yodifee / Photo by Vann Chanvetey Lum Sereywat, 19 year-old, has his leg and left arm replaced with plastic brace since he got affected by polio. Both of his parents passed away, he is left behind alone with this physical disability. “Before I felt so lonely and ignored when I was at home because I am a disabled person,” Sereywat says, “I never thought I could perform something like that in front of many people. However, it is something I like to do. It is my talent.”

Sereywat is not in a minority group of people in Cambodia. In a report released in October 2009 by International Labor Organization, nearly 5 percent of population in Cambodia is disabled according to the 2004 Census of the National Institute of Statistics. In comparison to a significant change in the 2008 Cambodian population census (approximately 14 million) shows that there may be some 700, 000 disabled people in the country.

Women and men with disabilities are viewed to be in a less productive and vulnerable members in the society. Because of their physical challenges, they do not have opportunity to fully involve in their communities and receive education for their future employment. Throughout the year, a number of organizations have been established in Cambodia with the support from both local and international partners.

A girl in wheelchair performing in group dancing / Photo by Vann Chanvetey Youth with Disabilities Foundation for Education and Employed (Yodifee) is one of the organizations established in 2001 and has been working with disabled people to assist them in accessing to education and prepare themselves for their prospective employment.

Director of Yodifee, Ouch Nimoul says, “These disabled people at my organization were before left alone at home. They are ignored by their relatives, and they didn’t have chance to go outside and see the society. I am myself a disabled person so I understand how they feel. At Yodifee, we encourage them to rebuild their confidence and show them a path to walk for their future career.”

Recently, Yodifee cooperates with Southeast Asia Service leadership Network (SEALNet), a non-profit organization founded in 2004, Standford University, the United States, organizing a project called ‘Project Cambodia 2012’. Every vacation period, a group of students around the world basically from three chapters of SEALNet: Standford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a last chapter in Singapore, would come together to Southeast Asian countries to conduct a project concerning various aspects of social issues such as education, health, arts, etc.

A guy in wheelchair playing guitar at Dream Carnival / Photo by Vann Chanvetey This year, the Project Cambodia 2012 focus on the disabled people in the country by providing them with English and computer training with participants from 15 universities from the United States and Southeast Asia countries, 15 local students from different high schools and universities in Cambodia, and 50 disabled youth at Yodifee.

“The project aims to help disabled youths to be independent and self-sustained,” explains David Chhan, 26, a student at MIT and a project leader of Project Cambodia 2012, “In addition, we also want to empower local youths to be confident, to care about their own community and realize that they have the potential to change people’s lives.”

The forefront challenges of disabled people in Cambodia have been considered by the government as many laws have been passed and implemented. In 2009, law on the Protection and the Promotion of the Rights of People with Disabilities was created to provide for the right of disabled people to be employed without discrimination in the public and private sectors.

Nimoul says one of the main difficulties disabled people have encountered in their life is the discrimination from other people. He empathizes that, “Your attitude is my handicap. When you think I’m disabled, then I will start to think and feel in a way that a disabled person normally does --- thinking that I am useless and always feel insecure so I will never get a job.”

Boosting up the confidence for disabled people is very important. To put a meaningful end to their 2-week project, SEALNet set up a festival day, Dream Carnival, at Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Center on August 24th, 2012, inviting youths from Yodifee to show their talents on the stage in hope of raising awareness of disabilities issues in Cambodia.

“We want the public to realize the struggling of disabled people and the feeling of isolation that they have.” Says Chhan, “They do need our attention.”

Although the 2-week project has come to an end, the good memories and care that Sereywat has received from joining the project still occupies a big space in his heart. With tears in his eyes, Sereywat says, “Since I heard the news that they [SEALNet] were coming, I was looking forward to see them every days. Finally they came, but just for 2 weeks. It was too short.”

Hiding the tearful eyes behind his hand, Sereywat continues, “I could have finished high school by now, but I lost my self-esteem so I dropped out of school. After I entered Yodifee and met these people from SEALNet, I realize that there are still people who care about me. I feel so warm.”

Sereywat has a dream to be an accountant in addition to his talent in performing. With the plastic leg and arm he is wearing, he is only holding half of his own fate. In order to make his dream come true, support has to be provided.

Article by: Vann Chanvetey
E-mail: chanvetey.vann@gmail.com
Blog: http://mediagirlism.wordpress.com
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About Writer:

Vetey's profileVann Chanvetey is a sophomore of Media Management at the Department of Media and Communication (DMC), and also a junior at Institute of Foreign Languages (IFL). Writing is what Vann Chanvetey calls 'Creativity Booster' and it brings enjoyments to her life and also encourages her to study Journalism at the first place. She would devote her spare time to writing, blogging, and reading. She started working for the CambodiaCircles in November 2011. "I regard writing and reading as my closed firends," said Chanvetey.