Dr. Karambu Ringera once said that "Poverty is not just about lack of money, or absence of violence and disease, rather the greatest suffering in these areas results from lack of access to information, a lack of knowledge and support to successfully utilize and develop local resources to create a better life".
Disability in Cambodia is directly linked with poverty and with the recent history of war, lack of basic health care and absolute poverty, Cambodia has one of the highest per capita rates of disabled people in the world, with amputation and polio accounting for almost 35%.
Poverty is a contributing factor to the causes of disability as well as being a common result of being disabled. With a strong stigma attached to disabled people, they are often socially and economically marginalized. Add to this limited access to education, health and employment opportunities, it is not difficult to see their "value" erased.
This is why the work of such groups as Veterans International Cambodia is so critical and essential. VI works with the disabled holistically providing rehabilitation and support services so they may lead active, productive and fulfilling lives. This not only means providing the surgical care needed, custom making a prosthesis or mobility device, and providing the physical therapy after-care, but also helping the person with their education (from tutors during rehabilitation to building ramps or accessible bathrooms in the schools), developing savings clubs in their villages, supplying grants to establish in-home businesses, creating self-help groups and raising awareness in the schools.
Sitting at VI, I watched a young amputee practise walking with her new prosthesis, a toddler with severe clubfoot having his brace adjusted, and a 10 year-old boy stricken with polio who came to VI barely able to do more than crawl, sit upright and reach for a toy without losing his balance. Words are inadequate to describe the sense of fulfillment as I witnessed these lives being transformed.
In a country where the disabled are often discarded, it is inspiring to see each person on a path to leading a full and active life, away from the scourge of begging and despair. In the words of beneficiary Ream Sopheak, “I was so depressed when I became an amputee. I thought that my life was over but the rehabilitation services and the other support I received from VI changed my life”. Through a loan from the savings club, Ream was able to buy materials to fish and support his family, his wife sells home made cakes at their house, and his children are able to go to school. Ream's success is not just measured in economic terms but in less tangible and simpler terms: he and his family are happy, and leading full productive lives with a hope for a better future. What could be better than that?