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Summer stories from Cambodia

Mick and I were privileged to be able to spend 6-weeks in Cambodia this summer working with our partners and in-country friends. There are so many individual stories, highlights, obstacles to unpack and snippets to share and while it is impossible to put much of it into words concisely or at all, I wanted to share some of it.

Image of a Cambodian school classroom door with khmer words written above.
One of the very few classrooms for children with disabilities in the country, run by one of our partners in Pursat Province. Above the doors they painted a note (roughly translated) saying 'see the ability, not the disability!

One of the main goals of this summer's trip was to be able to provide access to disability trainings to more of our partners, that we were unable to reach previously, because of barriers including time, funding and rural location.

This summer, we were able to reach 90 partner staff members, including teachers & teachers-in-training, as well as 72 family members of children with disabilities. On this trip, we were able to reach partners working in the provinces of Pursat, Siem Reap & Kampong Speu and also further in and around the capital city of Phnom Penh.

Mick & Jennie smiling riding a moto in traffic
Motos, bikes, buses, tuk tuks... we get around on many forms of transportation in-country.

As we often discuss during trainings, these dedicated staff and family members are the ones that choose to learn in order to share information, raise awareness and spur change within their own families and communities! They are change-makers. They are hugely inspirational to us and it is important to us that they know that.

Glimpses into individual lives and passions like these always strike me and continue to ever-increase my dedication and passion for this work.
Glimpse #1: During this trip, we were able to meet with several organizations (including World Vision & Agape International Mission) about future collaboration and their disability training needs. On one of these visits, we talked to a Cambodian principal working with a local Christian organization who shared about his desire to be able to successfully include children with disabilities at his school. Currently none of the teachers have any disability experience or training (which is unfortunately very common). He said 'It is good you are doing this work... I have parents of children with disabilities come to my school. We try for one week or two weeks but I meet with the parents and we cry together because I have to turn them away.'

We are also now starting to try to empower and build the confidence of some of the previously trained partners, who will continue to be able to train others in their own communities and organizations (and are being asked to, by the government officials working on similar goals). We have confidence that this model is a method that can have impactful and sustainable change toward creating more Cambodian disability professions and professionals.

Group of Cambodian trainees outside
A group of our partner organization's staff gather for a photo at the end of a day of training.

And speaking of impact, the second trip goal was to begin gathering information about the effectiveness of the first disability trainings we conducted the previous summer. We know that we have a lot to learn and that there are many ways to continue to make our trainings better and better. So we met and observed previous trainees to begin answering questions including: was the information actually helpful? how have you used it? did you share with others?

We were overjoyed to hear many of our trainees have trained other staff at their organizations and have also teamed up to reach into 8 additional provinces over the past year as well! We saw replicated teaching materials, lesson plans and heard a lot of positive feedback and desire for more and more.

Glimpse #2: One of the family members that participated in our trainings this summer was a grandfather whose 14 year-old grandson has down syndrome. He shared that they spend a lot of time together and he sees skills and potential in his grandson, but the boy's father (his son) is so ashamed that he avoids his son and does not interact with him. But the grandfather was excited for the opportunity to learn more to share with his son and family and encouraged others who shared similar experiences during one of our family training sessions.

Thankfully we will continue to interpret and unpack the information we have gathered with our Advisory Working Group that will begin meeting in the Twin Cities in September. We're so excited to work together to keep advancing this project and building more disability training tools together.

One of the children with disabilities served by a partner organization.

Glimpse #3: One of our previous trainees is the principal at a partner's school and daycare for students with disabilities. We met with him to see how things were going. His enthusiasm to see us again was so uplifting. He told us he has studied the written materials we left before many times over the past year and now trains the teachers and has seen a lot of progress. He enthusiastically shared that the teachers are less stressed and everyone feels like they can work better together now instead of just trying to control the children. He said 'when I attend the training, so good. Before we only try, but now it's good.' His son also has disabilities and his dedication and passion to keep learning and sharing is increasing understanding and inclusion for many.

We are continually grateful to our partners, who inspire us and demonstrate true partnership in this mission and to all of our DSI supporters who uplift us and our work, through giving time and talents, lifting us up in prayer and by contributing financially.

It is only together that we can continue to show up for our partners, the teachers, families and those with disabilities who need access to the opportunities and services that we are working together to build.


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