Weh plays bricks with child

Inner West physiotherapist Weh Yeoh starts speech therapy project for Cambodian kids

Aug 12, 2015

There are more than 7,000 speech pathologists in Australia, but not one in Cambodia, despite the prevalence of speech-related disabilities among its children.

When Weh Yeoh, a physiotherapist and former student at Summer Hill’s Trinity Grammar, learnt about this, he decided to act.

“In 2012, I worked with (local organisation) CABDICO, who send community workers out to poor rural villages to visit children with disabilities — and the vast majority do not go to school because teachers are not well-equipped to take them,” Mr Yeoh said.

“When I learnt about the desperate need for speech therapy in Cambodia, I worked with CABDICO to start OIC Cambodia to bring speech therapy services.”

CABDICO worker Phearom told Mr Yeoh that most of the children with disabilities needed speech therapy, though none of the CABDICO staff were qualified to provide it, so Mr Yeoh trained them in basic speech therapy techniques.

“I met a 10-year-old boy called Ling that Phearom visited regularly and he slurred his speech due to cerebral palsy,” Mr Yeoh said. “Due to his inability to communicate, he had no friends and members of his community assumed that he was stupid.

“As part of her training, Phearom would go to Ling’s house every day and bit by bit, Ling’s communication improved until he could string sentences together.”

Ling started going to school for the first time when he was 12, came second in his class and became popular among his peers.

“The story of Ling taught me that no matter how difficult it might be, we can make it possible for children with speech difficulties to go to school and thrive,” Mr Yeoh said.

Mr Yeoh’s OIC project is aiming to establish speech therapy as a profession in Cambodia by raising awareness of the concept, training more professionals and setting up a university course to produce the country’s first generation of speech therapists.

The project will also advocate directly to the United Nations and the Cambodian government to fund speech therapy as a universally accessible, locally led service.

First Published in Inner West Courier.