Phearom with child

Phearom, doing what she loves most

Nov 02, 2014

Chea Phearom is a Cambodian disability worker who turned down another job that would have seen her salary double. Why?

From a young age, Phearom understood the difficulties faced by those with disabilities. After her uncle lost a limb in a landmine accident, he began to help others with disabilities. Phearom observed this carefully.

Today, Phearom works for CABDICO, a small NGO working with children who have disabilities. She has a caseload of 36 children, each from poor families in rural Cambodia. Every day, regardless of heat or rain, she travels by motorbike through the countryside to visit these children in their homes.

Of the 36 children Phearom works with, 27 have a swallowing or communication disorder, caused by disabilities like autism or cerebral palsy.

Because they are unable to speak clearly, children with communication disorders are often unable to attend school or make friends, things every child should be able to do.

Children with swallowing problems cannot swallow food and liquid safely, which can cause pneumonias and even death.

In fact, two children Phearom has worked with have died because of a swallowing problem. One literally choked to death on his own phlegm because his swallow was not strong enough to allow safe passage into his stomach.

There are many others who face these problems. More than 600,000 Cambodians have a communication or swallowing problem, yet most disability workers like Phearom have not had access to training on how to treat these problems.

This year, OIC Cambodia worked with CABDICO to run training workshops on speech therapy. Phearom attended these workshops.

“Before, I was not clear on how to work with children with communication and swallowing problems, but when I had skills on speech therapy, it made it easier for me to make decisions on my therapy,” she says.

This training had an incredible impact on Phearom, and has motivated her to keep working for CABDICO despite the opportunity to earn more money.

“I refused the job that paid more because I have had the opportunity to learn about speech therapy. That convinced me to stay.”

Phearom has consistently shown incredible dedication to her work. She is of the age where most Cambodian women are married and having children, but when her mother tried to arrange for her to be married to a local businessman, Phearom refused.

It would mean quitting her job to help her husband with his business, which Phearom was not willing to do.

“If this man really loved me, why would he stop me from doing the thing that I love the most?” she asks. “Often in Cambodia, people don’t think that women can work in different fields. So, I am even prouder to be a woman working in this job.”