The success story of RATH MAKARA – Intellectual Disability 

Rath Makara was a ten-year-old child diagnosed with chronic fatigue, who did not talk much and had trouble with communication. He was found abandoned along the street and was sent to ABC radio to help find his family. With no success after one week of searching, the ABC radio manager then decided to refer him to Damnok Toek in the hope of finding his family. At this time, Damnok Toek still maintained a centre in Phnom Penh.

On the 23rd of November, 2016, Damnok Toek welcomed Makara and began the search for his family. During this time, there was one family that had lost their child who had been the same age as Makara. They came to see him but unfortunately, he was not their child. Makara remained in the care of Damnok Toek, receiving clothes, medical care, counselling, and an education specialised for children with disabilities.

Makara was a cheeky boy growing up and knew a lot of skills. He would play tricks on the staff by unlocking the staff room door and taking things from the staff’s bags like a Smart Phone to play games but he would never steal or destroy anything he borrowed. He was brought to the Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CCAMH) in Takhmao to check on his health where staff finally learned that Makara had an intellectual disability. After that day, staff ensured that Makara was accessing necessary services to assist in his development and maintain his health.

In 2018, there was a high risk of flooding in the area where the Damnok Toek centre was located in Phnom Penh due to the lake being filled in. Therefore, Damnok Toek was forced to relocate to a safe place and decided to take the children to the existing project DT had in Neak Loeung. All the children arrived there successfully, and they were carefully looked after by the staff. Currently, Damnok Toek’s centre in Neak Loeung has a total of 16 children with disabilities who reside in the Small Group Homes that are designed to provide a family-like environment to the children. The Damnok Toek staff who care for the children in Neak Loeung have demonstrated a high level of dedication to teach the children, take good care of them, and stimulate their senses.

After more than two years since relocating to Neak Loeung, Rath Makara’s abilities have improved drastically. He has stopped playing tricks on the staff and has quickly learnt new skills. Damnok Toek staff also taught him how to ride a bicycle and he could then go to school by himself. He always helped with the housework, could take a bath by himself, and prepared himself for school every day. Makara was fully integrated into the local public school and since starting school he quickly learned how to read and write very well. Nowadays, Makara is studying in grade 3 at Prek Ksay Primary School and resides in Damnok Toek’s Small Group Homes in Neak Loeung. Makara has come a long way from being an abadoned child with an intellectual disability to now studying at a public school with other children from the community.

Damnok Toek is very proud with Makara’s progress and development. He is a good role model to show that having a disability does not have to limit a person’s capacity to go to school and learn basic-life skills. Makara will now have a better quality of life and can one day start to live independently, find a good job, and build a bright future.

Intellectual Disabilities Little life

     Panh Niley was born August 8th, 2006 at Tbaing Khpous Village in Kampong Chhnang Province in a poor family. Unfortunately she has cerebral palsy associated with disorders (epilepsy). She lived with her family until her six years old. Because of her disability she was neglected and her family struggled a lot to support her. Every day, they were obliged to leave her alone to be able to go to work. One day in 2012 Panh’s parents decided to abandon her near a Pagoda in Phnom Penh.

     Then, Panh Niley was taken care of ByKota House a shelter in Phnom Penh to protect vulnerable children. Nevertheless this shelter was not specialized with children with disability especially children with severe disability like Panh Niley.

     In 2017 Damnok Toek was contacted by Mosvy, Uncicef and Bykota House to take care Panh Niley because, the living conditions proposed by Bykota House did not suit Panh Niley’s needs. Indeed due to her disability she needed very specific care such as physiotherapy and ergo therapy and Bykota House was unable to provide such specific care.

     After assessment, Panh Niley was referred to Damnok Toek’s Phnom Penh center in May 2017. This center was created to be adapted to welcome children with physical and mental disabilities. However, Damnok Toek closed this center in July 2018. This decision was made because after 15 years of existence the Phnom Penh center was not adapted anymore for children with disabilities because of the urbanization of the neighborhood.

     All the beneficiaries were transferred in a bright new center in Neak Loeung. This new center was designed to offer better support to children with disability especially in terms of medical assistance. Alongside the residential center, Damnok Toek has opened a rehabilitation center, where children have access to specific therapy such as physiotherapy, ergo therapy, different kind of adapted recreational activities.

      When Panh Niley arrived in Damsnok Toek’s center, she was weak and had very little autonomy. Moreover she was very sensitive and often cried without apparent reason. Month after month living in Damnok Toek’s center Panh Niley has started to smile and become more autonomous. Moreover thanks to an adapted nutrition she takes weight and become healthier.

     Currently, Panh Niley is able to eat alone without educators help. Moreover she seems happier than before and a lot more alert. Most important thanks to the daily care and patience of Damnok Toek’s educators, Panh Niley is starting to make people understand what she wants or doesn’t want.

    After few months of physiotherapy and ergo therapy Panh Niley is already beginning to feel benefits in term of posture and interaction with others. Today she is able to play games on her own, which was not the case some months ago.

Labor Abuse at Thailand life

        Chandran Sean is 13 years old and the youngest sibling of a family of 6 children. He was born in Beanteameanchey town in a very poor family. Sean’s father died when he was only 1 years old. In 2015, driven by poverty and lack of economic opportunities in Cambodia, Sean’s mother decided to migrate to Bangkok with Sean. Sean’s siblings were already old enough to take care of themselves. One of the objectives for this migration was to gather enough money to build a house back in Cambodia. Unfortunately, as an illegal migrant it was very hard for Sean’s mother to find a proper job, most of the time she was obliged to beg on the street with her son. The child succeeded in earning between 300 and 400 Bath (9/12$) every day. Some of this money was given to Sean’s mother; the rest was used by Sean to buy food.

       One day as Sean was begging with his mother, the Thai police came and arrested both of them. They stay 2 days in the police station. Then Sean was separated from his mother to be sent in a Children center in Banphumvet. Sean stayed there almost one year before to be deported in Cambodia through the Poipet border. There, Sean was taken care of by Damnok Toek’s social worker from the Border Drop In Center. Then Sean was transferred in Damnok Toek’s Reception Center.

       At his arrival in the Reception Center, Sean was experiencing his adolescent growth spurt and was growing up very fast, but in the same time he experienced memory problems and seemed a little traumatized: he looked easily panicked and was very quiet. In the Reception Center Sean was provided with regular nutritious meals and social services, such as basic counseling, life skill and informal education, art therapy, recreational activities etc… After almost one year of living in the Reception Center, Sean seems to have adapted well his new living condition, he looks happier; he is less shy and plays with the other children. Moreover he participates to all the activities, including handicraft, gardening and drawing.

       During his childhood Sean didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. In the Reception center he learned some basic Khmer literacy and mathematics. Now he is able to read alone and reading is one of his favorite hobbies. Sean is very motivated to catch up with his study and to graduate. In the future he wants to be mechanic, to earn a salary and be able to help his family. His dream is to build a house and live again together with his sibling and his mother.

      For the moment, Sean’s mother still lives around Poipet, but after assessment Damnok Toek’s social workers preferred to keep Sean in the center. Indeed for the moment his mother living situation is not stable, she crosses the Thai border often sometimes for several month to work in Thailand. In these conditions there is a high risk for Sean to be obliged to beg again if he returns with his mother. Sean’s sibling had also poor economic situation and they refused to take care of Sean. Sean’s biggest brother is the only one in the family to have a stable job in Kampong Cham. Unfortunately he’s already using a big part of his salary to help other members of the family and he is unable to welcome Sean.

      Damnok Toek plan for Sean’s future is for the moment to keep him in the Reception Center. When he will be ready he will certainly integrate Damnok Toek’s Transitional Care Center and maybe go to Damnok Toek’s Non formal Education classes. In parallel Damnok Toek’s social workers will continue to work with Sean’s mother in order to try to stabilize her situation. Damnok Toek always keep in mind to find solution for family reintegration.

Street Life in Poipet to be bright at NFE

     Teveh is a young girl of 12 years old. She is the 3rd sibling of a family of five children. Her family is originated of Poipet surrounding. When Teveh was younger, her father was working as a construction worker and her mother as a seller in the market village. During this period the family income was not very high and the parents couldn’t afford to pay school fees and material to send their children to school. Teveh’s father was an alcoholic and he often used violence at home. One day authorities came to seize Teveh’s family house and land. Her father opposed the force of order with violence; as a result he was sentenced with 2 years of imprisonment. Teveh’s family economic situation after this event went worse because Teveh’s mother needed to take care of her husband in jail (in Cambodia families need to care about their relative in prison because the food isn’t enough to survive there). During this time the family’s children needed to take care of themselves, they workedto buy their own food by collecting junk in the street.

     Teveh’s neighbor saw this bad situation and decided to call Damnok Toek’s hotline to ask for an intervention. A Child Safe team went to Teveh’s family to make an assessment and they found out that the family matches all the criteria of Damnok Toek. In a first time, Damnok Toek supported Teveh’s family with basic needs such a food support. Then Damnok Toek’s social workers persuaded Teveh’s mother to enroll her children in Damnok Toek’s Non Formal Education program.

     Teveh started NFE in 2017 in grade 3. According to her teacher she is a hard work student and she got very good result at her studies. Damnok Toek still provides basic needs support to her family. In the future Teveh want to become a nurse. She is very happy to come to school.

Survival Life by Photographer without border

In recent years, Cambodia has proved to have one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. According to The World Bank, Cambodia has continued an average growth rate of 7.7 percent between 1995-2017, making it the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world.  Despite the steady economic advancements in the country overall, certain populations continue to endure setbacks – specifically, children.

Reports from The World Bank in Cambodia state that health and education remain a significant issue in the region, with around 500,000 children under five severely affected by these challenges. Due to a lack of education and vocational training, youth, in particular, do not acquire the skills and training necessary to obtain adequate employment. According to reports from the United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Human Trafficking (UN-ACT), “This often results in irregular and uninformed internal and cross-border migration, rendering migratory job seekers increasingly vulnerable to being trafficked.” Those in search of work are sometimes deceived and exploited by traffickers posing as representatives of labour recruitment agencies.

Photo by Kathleen Hertel

Photo by Kathleen Hertel

Thach Sokchamroen, who was sold to traffickers at a very young age, understands this all too well.

“I was seven years old when I was trafficked. Everything began the day my mother went to see a fortune teller,” said Sokchamroen in his biography provided courtesy of Damnok Toek (DT), a local NGO with a mission to serve the most vulnerable children in Cambodia. “This man told her that I was a very lucky child, that wherever or with whomever I lived, good spirits were always on my side to protect and help me. Maybe this event motivated my mother to traffick me as she was sure I would be safe.”

Sokchamroen was taken to Thailand, where he was forced to ask for alms on the streets of Bangkok.

“Sometimes my trafficker went away from town and I stayed outside for two or three days without returning home. During these times, I was forced to sleep in a pagoda or in some stalls in the market,” said Sokchamroen.

Photos by Kathleen Hertel

Photos by Kathleen Hertel

The money he received was always collected by the traffickers. If he tried to buy food for himself, or didn’t bring back enough money, the traffickers would punish him. When he was two years old, Sokchamroen became severely ill with a very high fever, gradually losing function in his leg muscles. After a few months, despite the best efforts of the doctors, he was no longer able to walk. His parents were construction workers, which meant the family moved around constantly in order to find work. The last place Sokchamroen lived with his family was a border-town called Poipet.

Sokchamroen was held by traffickers for two years until he was arrested by Thai police. The authorities initially sent him to prison, before transferring him to a children’s centre. After spending two years living with other displaced children at the centre, Sokchamroen was deported back to Poipet, Cambodia, where he was taken in by DT.

“When we talk about vulnerable children here, we talk about a lot of different cases such as street-living children, street-working children, trafficked children, substance abuse children and children with disabilities,” said Nathalie Nguyen, a representative from DT. “Thanks to Damnok Toek’s work, these children have a chance to access safe shelter care, medical care, counselling and education.”

Photo by Kathleen Hertel

Photo by Kathleen Hertel

Since the organization’s inception in 1997, DT has worked to alleviate the vulnerability children face in Cambodia. With numerous programs in place, the NGO is working on multiple levels to achieve its mission by providing a combination of services and resource in an environment that enables victims of these circumstances to heal, and overcome physical and emotional trauma.

Programs such as the Futures Employment Resource Project, the DT Drop-In Centres in Poipet and Neak Loeung, a new Disability Program in Neak Leung which launched July 2018, and their Phnom Penh shelter centres, which house up to 30 children living with physical and intellectual disabilities.

“In October 2003, Damnok Toek transferred me to Phnom Penh into its new disability program. In this new project I received better health care with regards to my disability,” said Sokchamroen. “In 2005 the Phnom Penh center changed its location to Boeung Keng Kong. In this new center, I went to Lavala school and finished my primary school in only 2 years thanks to accelerated classes.” He went on to graduate high school and obtained a degree in Computer Science and Technology at university. After graduating, DT offered him a job as an administrative assistant in their new center in Kep, which is designed specifically to care for young adults with mental disabilities.

Photo by Kathleen Hertel

Photo by Kathleen Hertel

“Even if it is not easy every day, I am currently very pleased with my work from which I learn a lot. I want to thank all the people who work for Damnok Toek but especially the Poipet and Phnom Penh team who took good care of me for so many years. They helped me overcome all the obstacles of my life and to become who I am.”