Chan Lon is 35 and a hunchback. He has never been able to work because of his disability, so all his life he has depended on his family, putting a strain on their finances.
But soon, Chan Lon will learn to print T-shirts. For the first time in his life, he will have a skill—and a job.
A newly formed NGO, the Cambodian Disabled Independent Living Organization, wants to help the disabled become independent through long-term vocational training.
“As our prime minister says, ‘Teaching people to fish is better than giving them fish,’” said Touch Samon, a representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor, Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation. He spoke last week at an opening ceremony for the NGO.
Of the world’s 6 billion people, 500 million live with a physical or mental disability, Touch Samon said. The problem is especially acute in Cambodia, which has the world’s highest per capita population of amputees.
Without any sort of strong social programs, many of these end up on the streets, unable to work and forced to beg for money and food.
The organization has three programs, said Ngin Saorath, its managing director. One trains the disabled to print T-shirts. Another teaches them to sew such items as handbags and book covers, which the organization sells—or the trainees can use their sewing skills to find work elsewhere.
The third program teaches farming on a small plot of land in Kien Svay district, Kandal province. Students spend a year learning to raise animals and plants, then leave to do their own farming. Unfortunately, the training farm is currently flooded. The organization hopes donors will give it enough funds to start over.
“One Khmer proverb states, ‘Living depends on yourself,’” Ngin Saorath said. “We can help people with disabilities realize their potential…and lead dignified lives.”