speech therapists

Speech therapy in action

Apr 14, 2016

I used to think that speech therapy referred to improving someone’s ability to talk.

However, after visiting some incredible staff in Siem Reap, I learnt that speech therapy has other, often life-saving benefits. When a child has a swallowing disability, common in those with cerebral palsy, food and liquid can go into their lungs. As a result, they can contract pneumonia and even die.

This is where our disability workers’ speech therapy skills come in. They work with families so they can feed their children safely. Transferring their skills to families is crucial to people like Phearom closing a case – when families are now independent in the care of the child.

Phearom has closed a total of 20 cases in nine years.

This remarkable achievement is not surprising given her commitment. In her nine years working with children with disabilities, she has travelled 100,000 km – the equivalent of two and half times around the world – on her daily visits to the children and families she helps.

Phearom with her motorbike

Phearom is also committed to improving her own skills. She has put her hand up recently for extra training in speech therapy. It’s an area where she feels she can make a huge impact.

Tiv Kiry, the director of a local school, is a recent convert on the importance of speech therapy.

He explained that most teachers aren’t aware of the potential for speech therapy to help children go to school.

“I have to put the child into a class with older teachers who have to use their intuition to help,” he said. “We would like to be taught more about it (speech therapy) to work with children with communication disabilities.”

Seoun, a teacher at this school, explained how hard it is to support children with disabilities. Even though some teachers in Cambodia are trained to support these children, she hadn’t received training herself.

The key step before training is awareness. Awareness raising will require cooperation between OIC, government and other non-profit organisations.

Phearom explained how awareness amongst parents is key. “It (speech therapy) is most effective if we can give speech therapy within the first year and a half [of a child’s life],” she said. But most parents don’t realise that their child needs speech therapy, instead thinking that they are just a slow learner.

Simorn and Chhean, two other disability workers in Siem Reap, are also learning quickly about speech therapy.

Chhean used to think that only people with physical injuries, such as those without legs, had a disability. This is a common belief in Cambodia.

Chhean teaching the kids with the Khmer alphabet

Simorn enjoys her job because “I am coming across different problems all the time so I have to come up with different solutions.” Simorn recently set up a club for parents of children with disabilities to talk and share their experiences others like them. Chhean uses picture cards so children can point to pictures of food if they feel hungry.

I learnt so much from talking to Phearom, Simorn and Chhean during my trip to Siem Reap. It was incredible to see up close how speech therapy can change a child’s life.

Simorn playing with 3-year old Som Sauth

OIC’s disability workers need your support to continue helping children with communication and swallowing disabilities. They want to learn new speech therapy skills and can do that with your contributions.

You can help us through giving up some of your time to volunteer, hosting a fundraiser or making a donation. Support us to continue changing lives in Cambodia through speech therapy.

by Laurie Mcgeoghegan