Weh and child with speech disability

Starting OIC Cambodia

Nov 25, 2014

One and half years ago, I started working with a local Cambodian organisation in the field of disability. They had recognized that there was a huge healthcare gap in Cambodia , particularly on speech therapy. This therapy aims to address the needs of people who cannot communicate or swallow food and liquid properly. We began a pilot program in speech therapy, the first of its kind in Cambodia, and are now looking to scale it up to service the rest of the country.

Recently, we launched this project both online and in Melbourne, Australia. It is called OIC Cambodia.

We still have a long way to go, but here’s what I’ve learnt in this time:

Not all needs are created equally

In international development, there are needs that are being addressed, and needs that are being forgotten. In Cambodia, there are approximately 600,000 people who need access to speech therapy. Without this service, people are unable to communicate, meaning that they cannot go to school, play with friends or have a job. As speech therapists also treat people who have problems swallowing, there is a vital health service that isn’t being addressed. If someone has a stroke, and they lose control of their ability to swallow, food and liquid can go into their lungs, they can contract pneumonia and then they can die.

Despite this dire situation, there are no Cambodian speech therapists. Not one.

This situation exists because our desire to address needs in the world isn’t equal. Some causes get far more attention than others.

Local really is best

Cambodia has over 3,500 NGOs. That’s about one for every 10,000 people. Put another way, it has the second highest per-capita number of NGOs, behind Rwanda.

In the field OIC works in, there are at least 11 small Cambodian organisations doing elements of the same work. Yet, these organisations often work without collaboration or coordination.

OIC Cambodia is a project, not an NGO. We did not establish an organisation to come in and implement services. These 11 organisations are already doing that. Instead, we decided to work with existing partner NGOs, to build upon what they do best. They don’t need another foreigner to come in and start something from scratch.

People will respond

Both internationally and here in Cambodia, the response to what we have started has been positive. Through media coverage internationally, people who were unaware of the importance of communication are beginning to learn about it. Locally, people are hungry for knowledge and want to learn more.

After one training session involving teachers in Cambodia, who began to learn about how to integrate children with communication disorders better into their classroom, the first question asked at the end of the workshop was, “When do we find out more about how to help children like this?

I learnt that even if there is something that seems like a forgotten issue, once you start action around it, people will respond well. You just need a group of people to start it.

First Published in Practical Initiative Network.