speech therapists

We can help 600,000 Cambodians lead healthier, happier lives

Nov 18, 2014

When Ling was a little kid growing up in Cambodia, no one imagined that he would go to school. Ling was born with cerebral palsy. His condition makes it difficult for him to control his movements and causes him to slur his speech. As a result, he struggled to communicate and was judged by others to be unintelligent.

In Cambodia, more than 600,000 individuals (4% of the population) suffer from communication or swallowing disorders like Ling’s, yet there are hardly any health services available. Consequently, children are left unable to verbally communicate their wants and needs, they struggle to connect and play with their peers, and as adults they find themselves unable to participate in their communities and earn a living. Those with swallowing disorders have difficulty eating and drinking with ease, and face the reality that they are 13 times more likely to die prematurely.

It’s hardly a problem unique to Cambodia. Families all around the world are faced with this challenge, as I witnessed personally while working with children with Autism in California a few years back. But this is the key difference: In countries like the United States, where I worked, speech therapy is widely available in and out of school. In Cambodia, there are no trained speech pathologists to date.

Fortunately,OIC Cambodia is working to address this growing need, and kids like Ling are making tremendous progress.

Their plan is twofold: OIC plans to provide training in speech therapy services across Cambodia, and they aim to graduate the first generation of Cambodian speech therapists from a Cambodian university. For kids like Ling, this changes everything.

Already, OIC is already working with partners on the ground to get training to social workers in one province. Benefiting from this program, today, 12-year-old Ling is able to communicate more clearly and he jokes that he has “too many friends at school.” After working with his disability worker Chea Phearom for 5 years, he says, “Before, I could understand others, now, sometimes they can understand me.”

Now that Ling has made such strides in verbal communication, Phearom is eager to work on improving his written communication. “We will improve Ling’s writing,” she says. “Ling has a great attitude. He tries very hard.” So hard, in fact, that Ling is now ranked second in his class. Work it, Ling!

With OIC’s help, I can’t wait to see how Cambodia’s first generation of fully certified speech pathologists will impact the country, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Armed with the ability to perform basic functions like eating and drinking, as well as the ability to communicate, I look forward to seeing more Cambodian children like Ling reach their full potential and live productive, dignified lives.

First Published in Global Citizen.