After years of hardship, a young boy finally gets the education he needs

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Sokha*, 13, was born into a very poor and disadvantaged family in a small village in the eastern central Cambodian province of Kampong Cham Province near the Mekong River. Although Sokha is 13 years old, he is just now studying first grade at the primary school in his village. Sokha only recently re-enrolled in school again after dropping out of school years ago due to disability and his family situation. Sokha had been to school once before; he started first grade when he was six years old but did not finish his first year.

Sokha is the first child in his family. He lives with his parents and his younger brother. Doctors told Sokha’s parents that he contracted polio as a young child, and the disease has caused him problems with mobility; he has difficulty moving one of his legs and one of his arms.

Moreover, Sokha has an intellectual disability, and he and both his parents are living with HIV/AIDS. Fortunately due to timely prevention, Sokha’s younger brother did not contract HIV/AIDS. Sokha’s father does not hold regular employment, he usually earns incomes fishing, or working as a hired labourer on construction sites. His mother works at home, taking care of the family and house. The family lives in a small house made from wooden posts and sheet metal, and mostly gets by on about five dollars (USD) per day.

Sokha’s mother, Ms. Neary* said her son also suffered from seizures as a young child, “One year after his birth, Sokha [would get] sick a lot and often have fits. He always [had] fits up to five [years old].” she added.

With all the complex layers of adversity in his life, and the limited experience of teachers to assist a young child like Sokha, he was never able to benefit from education until now. Sokha’s teacher, Ms. Kimsros, commented at the start of the project, “I have no skills and knowledge to teach children with intellectual [disabilities].”

With funding support from Norad, Save the Children and partner organization, Kampuchean Action for Primary Education (KAPE), are working closely with the Kampong Cham Provincial Office of Education and the District Office of Education to support teachers, school directors and other support staff to better understand the educational needs and methods for teaching children with different abilities. The project has provided trainings and support on how to improve and implement school development plans, and to update school mapping which helps educational authorities identify out-of-school children, children with disabilities, and children who are living in extreme poverty. Moreover, the project builds the capacity of primary school teachers to improve their teaching methodology, and equip them with the knowledge of inclusive education pedagogy.

Based on the improved school mapping, the school management committee and project staff reached out to Sokha’s family to encourage them to send him back to school, assuring them that the school and teachers had increased their capacity to support his needs. They also helped by providing him with the materials he needed for class. During the academic year in 2017-2018, Sokha started attending preschool classes, he then enrolled in first grade at the beginning of the current academic year (2018-2019).