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5 April 2020 - Story

Improving Positive Parenting and Communication through Sign Language

Rem Seyha is an 11-year-old boy who spends half an hour on foot going to school every day. Seyha is shy, but has a deep curiosity to learn and communicate with his friends. However, he had trouble to maintain conversations with his friends before.

He got frustrated with himself when he was not able to communicate, which led to frequent fights with his classmates because he could not understand their gestures or expressions. Because Seyha is deaf he struggled not just with his peers, but with his family and teachers as well. Neither he nor his parents, teachers and classmates knew any Cambodian Sign Language (CSL).

Mr. Sarem, Seyha’s 28-year-old father, told us that it was hard for him in the family [Seyha]. “I felt stress and was irritated to talk with Seyha. It was a simple request when I ask him to help around the house and even at meal times, but it is not easy to tell him. He might stay still, or run away to play around the house. I wanted to tell him ‘I need your help’ but I could not.”

Seyha also faced frequent misunderstanding leading to trust issues with his father. “One day, I got so mad at Seyha because the kids near my house told me that he stole something from the neighbor. I was overwhelmed and could not control my anger and hit him. Seyha tried to explain by his gestures that the neighbor gave that stuff to him. I did not listen to him because I could not understand his gestures. I felt regret after I found that those kids just told me a lie because they were jealous of him,” explained Mr. Sarem.

Mr. Eam Kosal, a CSL Learning Facilitator at Seyha’s school, explained, “Before, Seyha did not have friends and was isolated at school. The other students did not dare to play with Seyha because he easily got mad and fought with them. Furthermore, he did not concentrate well on his on studies.”

Big changes in Seyha’s life started happening when he attended a weekly, one-hour CSL class at his school as part of Save the Children’s Accelerating Cambodian Sign Language (ACSL) project. With funding from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) through Innovation Xchange and in collaboration with Krousar Thmey, a local Cambodian organization specializing in education for deaf and blind children, Save the Children developed 21 video modules and digital materials to help support deaf and hearing impaired children, their peers, teachers and families learn basic CSL. The project was tested at 10 target schools in rural Pursat Province, Western Cambodia. In addition to the CSL classes, the project at Seyha’s school provided direct trainings to two in-school CSL Learning Facilitators and the School Principal.

Seyha and his friends finally had the opportunity to learn basic signs together. They were able to quickly put the lessons into practice so that Seyha started to improve his communication with classmates and teachers.

Mrs. Krek Em, Seyha’s School Principal, described how the project activities have benefitted the school and children like Seyha:  “I feel impressed by seeing the changes in this boy. He passed the grade and got a good score, especially in math. The teachers are able communicate and teach Seyha. Before, we could not do anything [educating] besides leaving him isolated in the class. I am really thankful for Save the Children bringing this technical support to my school. I will continue the CSL classes and will support other children who have disabilities.”

After less than a year of CSL classes, Seyha has improved relationships with his friends at school, where he can play football and learn with them. Now Seyha can use his hands to communicate in simple words and short sentences with his classmates and teachers.

Lihour, Seyha’s 11-year-old friend told us that. “In the past I got bit by him and I did not like to play with him at all. Now we get along after we have CSL classes together. I like communicating with him during the class. I am happy to help explain to him a lesson and am not afraid of him anymore.”

In addition to the support Seyha received at school, the project also brought about change for his family on understanding the importance of positive parenting. Mr. Sarem, Seyha’s father, explained the positive changes that he has seen as a result of the sign language project: “I started learning sign language with the teacher at my home. Seyha and I could communicate in sign language and I got to know him more and more. Our relationship and connection improved day by day so I promised to stop any harmful behavior to my boy.” 

Seyha now expresses himself through joyful communication and can get along well with others. Sign language let’s him socialize and enables more positive behavior. “I love to make friends, I am very happy to play football with my friends. I love my father and family.”