A Better Future is Possible: Improving the lives of children with disabilities living in institutions in Cambodia

Written by Damon Martin

ISS Australia’s (DCI National Section in Australia), Deputy CEO

 The ISS Australia project in Cambodia started in 2016 and aims to enhance alternative care opportunities for children with disabilities living in institutions. It is part of a global ISS project supporting children with disabilities in Vietnam, Mauritius, Burkina Faso and Mexico.

The dark era and legacy of the 1970’s Khmer Rouge regime still remains fresh and affects the people of Cambodia. Not only did this brutal regime claim the lives of up to 2 million people through war, execution, starvation and disease, the Khmer Rouge also planted millions of landmines throughout the countryside. Many of these landmines still have not been cleared and continue to impact the lives of Cambodians today through death or disability.

As a result, Cambodia today faces ongoing challenges, and institutional care for children is increasingly common, exacerbated by a deleterious booming orphanage industry, orphanage tourism and voluntourism. In Cambodia, almost 90% of children with disabilities placed in institutional care are abandoned in hospitals, clinics, or in the street without known parents, which limits reintegration and kinship placement opportunities.

ISS Australia’s activity focuses on a Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) approach for children with disabilities. Utilising highly-regarded British expert and founder of United Aid for Azerbaijan, Gwen Burchell – MBE,  ISS Australia organised a two-day workshop in Kampong Cham attended by Government officials and local service providers. Interestingly nearly all the participants had no knowledge of CBR. However, it was evident through their work that they often implemented CBR principles, such as inclusion, participation, sustainability, empowerment, self-advocacy and a barrier-free environment.  ISS Australia developed a technical guidance document outlining what CBR strategies are realistically achievable in Cambodian practice, what resources are needed and future strategies for strengthening family care of children with disabilities.

ISS Australia also produced a practical and user-friendly manual for professionals specific to the issues and context for children with disabilities in Cambodia. The manual incorporated valuable information from the USAID publication Family Care of Children of Children with Disabilities: Guidance for Frontline Workers in low and middle-income countries, which Gwen Burchell co-authored.

ISS Australia remains committed to implementing further initiatives for children with disabilities in Cambodia, and we are keen to scale our model, and impact, to countries around the world. We believe children with disabilities residing in institutions should have the opportunity to live in a family environment where-ever possible.

This post is also available in: FR, ES

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