boy playing with ball

Sokim and his football on the path to school

Feb 28, 2016

Out in the field, near Siem Reap in Cambodia, to see our staff in action providing basic speech therapy, I was distracted by the sudden staging of a football match. Super striker Sokim led the game bursting with energy and smiles.

Sokim was born with Down syndromecerebral palsy and a cleft palate. He has received numerous operations that have helped to fix the cleft palate and enabled him to stand up.

Sokim is lucky. He has received basic speech therapy even though there are no local university-trained speech therapists in Cambodia. Our aim at OIC Cambodia is to ensure that this university program is established so stories like Sokim’s become one of thousands. With university-trained speech therapists working throughout Cambodia they will not only help children with communication disabilities but also train others who cannot access university.

Only recently returning to walking, due to a fall a couple of years ago, Sokim’s communication skills are rapidly improving. He can now say five words: Mom (his younger sister’s name), nyam (eat) and moi, bee, bai (one, two, three). He is also increasingly adept at making animal noises. We were treated to woofs, moos and squawks when we met up with Sokim.

Sokim learning animal names and sounds

The use of these animal noises by Phearom, Sokim’s disability worker, helps to highlight some of the creative techniques speech therapy uses to improve communication skills. Without prior involvement with speech therapy many people have an image in their head of what they believe speech therapy is and how it is used. Often this image involves attempts at conversation and repeating words. However, animal noises can also be useful for children like Sokim. It allows them to practice using their mouth and vocal chords in a certain way that feels more natural.

Thanks to the help of Phearom, Sokim is rapidly progressing. She describes how he “talks more now and people can understand him more too”. Enabling children and their families to be as independent as possible is crucial for our staff to consider a case a success. Phearom goes on to explain how the key is “we have communication in the family and improve the livelihood [well-being] of the family and child.” Phearom has successfully taught Sokim’s grandparents skills that allow them to look after him during the day. His parents can now go back to work, a significant step towards improving their family’s livelihood.

Disability worker Phearom with Sokim

The progress Sokim has made has been incredible. Two years ago he could not walk. Until recently only his family could understand him and he could only understand a few names. Phearom and Sokim’s family’s hope that he will start school in October 2016 and after seeing his passing skills first-hand he looks set to be Cambodia’s next superstar footballer. When I asked his grandmother, Lon Tor, how she felt about his progress, she looked delighted and said she was “excited for him”.

We began to say our goodbyes to Sokim but not before one last raspberry-blowing competition. Sokim won by a mile! The animal noises were clearly helping him strengthen his mouth muscles. And with that we were off, marveling at the improvements speech therapy had facilitated.

Category: Field Story by Laurie Mcgeoghegan