volunteer doing therapy

Changing lives in Cambodia

May 6, 2016

The first pilot program in speech therapy in Cambodia was completed recently. OIC volunteer Laurie McGeoghegan visited disability workers, and the children and families whose lives have been measurably improved.

On a recent visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia, I met our disability workers and the children they provide speech therapy to. Sokim, a six year old boy with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and a cleft palate, most effectively responded to speech therapy when creative techniques were employed.

This involved using animal noises to strengthen muscles in the mouth. This highlighted the adaptability required as a speech therapist in Cambodia and seeing in person the improvements speech therapy makes demonstrates the huge impact it has in Cambodia. Children who two years previously couldn’t swallow properly were now in school. Others who had required full-time care from their parents were among the most popular in their class, and because of their new-found independence their parents could go back to work, ensuring the families sustained livelihood.

Thanks to a $25,000 grant from Speech Pathology Australia (SPA), an independent evaluation of the first pilot program in speech therapy training for disability workers in Cambodia was completed. Questionnaires, interviews and focus groups with the disability workers and families were used to gain the evidence for this evaluation.

The impact of this pilot project was astounding. The number of children who could communicate with their family most of the time increased from 21% to 84% after they had received basic speech therapy. All of the trainees reported that they gained crucial knowledge. The training improved their relationships with the families they helped and allowed them to teach others new skills. 48% of families reported swallowing improvements in their child, 37% clearer speaking and about half reported became more independent. The impact of these statistics can be seen in how some of the children I met were now in school and receiving an education unavailable to them without speech therapy.

The independent evaluator also identified a number of recommendations. These included community education and awareness raising and what aspects of the training worked best. We have taken these recommendations on board, allowing us to help more children, more effectively.

Our mission at OIC is to establish speech therapy university courses and jobs for Cambodians, raise awareness, and influence government policy. This will ensure the over 600,000 people with communication disabilities in Cambodia can receive speech therapy, enabling them to become integral, contributing members of Cambodian society. Key to achieving this mission is working with the Cambodian government. The testimonies, feedback and results from the SPA-funded evaluation will be crucial to ensure the Cambodian government understands, and subsequently supports, the need to establish university-trained Cambodian speech therapists.

When combined, the evaluation and stories such as Sokim’s demonstrate the impact speech therapy has in Cambodia. To further this impact the establishment of a university program and speech therapy as a profession in Cambodia is a necessity.

First Published in SPA’s Speak Out magazine.

Leave a Comment