volunteer plays with child

Why I joined OIC Cambodia

Aug 25, 2015

This year I joined OIC Cambodia in their efforts to establish speech therapy. OIC trains local health professionals across the country, advocates the need for speech therapy on a government and community level and is working to set up a local university course. But OIC isn’t the reason I moved to Cambodia.

Two years ago I arrived in Cambodia to work for a wildlife charity. My parents questioned my choice but I was passionate about protecting wildlife and the environment. I was part of a small team and I grew close to my Cambodian colleagues. They were always on hand to provide any help I needed, to share in my excitement and make me laugh with questions like “why don’t you know how to cut mangoes?” I learned what was important to them, how they feared for their families’ health and how they wished for a good education. I felt ashamed when describing how I used to skip school because I found it “boring”.

When I left my job, I wasn’t ready to leave the country. I began to understand more about Cambodia’s challenges and developed an affinity for the people I’d met. I wanted to contribute to their country’s positive progress. I felt that OIC’s vision to establish speech therapy as a profession was a great way to do this.

OIC focuses on a vulnerable population living with communication and swallowing problems. Due to accidents or disability many people are unable to communicate with their loved ones or participate in their communities. Adults and children are often isolated within their communities, hidden away or held back from school. Their lives are coloured by silence and frustration and there are no services to support them. Through OIC, I was lucky enough to meet people ready to change that.

I spent time in rural Cambodia visiting disability workers that OIC had trained in speech therapy techniques. Phearom, a trainee from OIC’s pilot project, is passionate about her new skills and is eager to learn more. “I call speech therapy a surprise therapy”, she told me. “I never knew how it could help so many people.”

We travelled along hot dusty roads visiting the families that Phearom worked with. Thirteen year-old Ling has cerebral palsy and as a result of speech therapy has become much more coherent in his speech. He is now attending school for the first time.

Phearom playing speech therapy games with Ling

Phearom told us that Ling’s uncle had recently had an accident and that Ling had alerted the whole village calling for help. The villagers had rushed to his uncle’s aid. Ling looked proud as Phearom explained that people could now understand him. I watched as he and Phearom giggled together playing a “fishing” game. Ling tried hard to pronounce the words on the cards he picked up with his magnetized fishing rod. I realised that I was part of something very meaningful to people like Phearom and Ling.

We visited Visal, a four year old boy with brain damage. His mother looked exhausted and shared the story of her family’s grief on the day they discovered that Visal had fallen into a toilet pit. He was declared “a tree” by the local doctor, alive but unresponsive. Phearom showed Visal’s mother how to aid his swallowing when feeding him. She almost whooped with excitement when he swallowed a full mouthful of water! I could see that this knowledge meant so much to his mother, who smiled for the first time since we’d met her. Speech therapy was providing solutions to problems that were previously insurmountable.

Phearom visiting Visal in his house

OIC is committed to providing more speech therapy training across the country and establishing a speech therapy programme at a local university. To do this, we are focusing on education, advocating the need for speech therapy, raising awareness of how it can help people and coordinating other organisations to make this happen.

When I first came to Cambodia, I was concentrating on general issues. However, my most important work has been with local people. The personal connections I have made are my greatest achievements in Cambodia. OIC helps people with speech and swallowing problems to make their own personal connections. Helping parents to communicate with their children and giving children the confidence to go to school. Cambodia has a lot of issues and it’s hard to know where to start helping people. OIC’s progress is the key to creating positive change for people who didn’t know a solution was possible.

OIC needs support to ensure a future for speech therapy in Cambodia. Get in touch if you would like to be a part of this valuable project. If you can’t volunteer with the team, then you can still help us by holding a fundraiser or donating what you can. We are currently raising funds to provide speech therapy training across the country and we need your support. Here’s how your contribution can make a big difference to people in Cambodia:

$10 supports us for one week to provide a child in Cambodia with speech therapy sessions

$25 supports us for one day in establishing a speech therapy program at a Cambodian university

$50 helps us reach one child with speech therapy needs in school and work with the teachers

$100 allows 20 children to communicate with their family through specialised communication tools