In early November, 2013, I was invited by CABDICO (Capacity Building of People with Disability in the Community Organization), a NGO (Non Government Organization) working with physically disabled children) to attend and present a paper at a workshop in Phnom Penh. The aim of the workshop was to investigate how to evolve Speech Pathology services in Cambodia. To date, there is no Speech Pathology program and only occasional workshops on specific target topics (such as swallowing disorders) had been conducted. Access to internationally qualified Speech Pathologists working in Cambodia is limited.
And so in mid-December, I set off on my own to a country I had never been to and a language I was not familiar with. On arrival in Phnom Penh, any pre-conceived ideas I had about Cambodia were dispensed. I was met with warmth, friendliness, generosity and thankfulness. In turn, I realized that I would be grateful for this opportunity.
The workshop began as an intense experience, especially when the numerous Excellencies, and Ministerial dignitaries entered the room and sat on the stage ready to address the approximately 83 workshop participants from organizations such as The Australian Red Cross, UNICEF, Ministry of Health and Disability Action Council (DAC) to mention just a few. My presentation on “Speech Pathology” (known as Speech Therapy or ST in Cambodia) addressed the answers to questions such as “what is a Speech Pathologist, when do you need a Speech Pathologist, who should see a Speech Pathologist” and finally provided an overview of the resources used by Speech Pathologists. Various other presentations included an account of ST workshops previously conducted by other NGOs in Cambodia and the Vietnam experience, amongst others. The outcome of the workshop was that ST is an important area that should be further developed in Cambodia, that a formal program is needed, collaboration between NGOs should occur so that participants of any ST teaching can share knowledge with others and most importantly it was recognized that ST would improve the health and educational potential of people with disabilities and in so doing improve their Well being and Quality of Life.
I left Cambodia a week later feeling excited at the opportunities that await the country! that there is a strong chance of a ST program being developed in the future and that the case workers are motivated and grateful to help people with disabilities.
And so, I set off back to Australia richer for the experience, eager to participate in developing programs in impoverished societies and happy to have been a part of such beautiful community spirit. So to the people of Cambodia, Aw-koon Ch’ran (thank you very much!).
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