Hin Muny walks with difficulty from the polio she contracted as a toddler. A few years ago, the 18-year-old might have learned to make purses, greeting cards, or key chains, jobs offered to disabled people.
But today she is learning English, math, accounting and computing at the Maryknoll Wat Than Skill Training Center, thanks to an agreement between the Wat Than center and the Business Advisory Council.
“We have adjusted our skill training to the demands of the business market,” said Kim Mom, director of the center. BAC’s program is the first in Cambodia, organizers say.
The BAC evolved from a project funded by the UN Development Program to help land mine survivors earn a living. Since January, businesses on the council have been working with skills training centers to see that people are taught skills employers need in today’s market.
With the help of the World Rehabilitation Fund, an NGO, and the National Council of Disabled People, the program has expanded to include polio survivors and other disabled people.
Organizers believe the training will make it easier for disabled students like Hin Muny to earn a living. She is one of 1,500 disabled Cambodians seeking jobs through the NCDP database.
Even with the new skills, it may not be easy to find jobs. “I have had a lot of interviews with employers in the past, but then they did not want to take a disabled person,” said Long Ly, NDCP program manager.
Some employers think disabled people are bad luck, while others don’t want the bother of making the workplace accessible, which can involve alterations to toilets or fire escapes.
But Patma Shastry of the World Rehabilitation Fund said the more training centers work with business and industry, the better they will do at finding work for graduates. “Our experience with employers is really good, but most of them will only take people with a good skill,” she said.
One organization that eagerly employs the disabled is the Cambodian Demining Workshop, which manufactures protective clothing for deminers. Ten of its 16 employees are disabled.
Finn Gundersen, manager of the Phnom Penh-based company, said he sees no difference between disabled employees and those without disabilities. Working with people often entails problems of some kind, he said, “but it does not matter whether they are [able-bodied] or disabled.”
The Wat Than training program has worked out well for Thai Sokkheng, 21, who was confined to a wheelchair by polio.
In February she landed a job as production assistant at the Trinunggal Komara Garment Factory in Phnom Penh. “I was very happy and very surprised to find this job,” she said.
She keeps one wheelchair at work and another at home, and her brother gives her a ride to work each day.
Davis Miu, general manager of the factory, said she is one of seven disabled people working at the factory, and he wouldn’t mind hiring more.
“If we had the opportunity to create more working places for disabled people, we would employ much more,” he said.