The band’s frontman comes on stage to sing the highlight of the set. It’s his favourite song, and he’s been practising it for the past three hours, he says. The teenage crowd is rapturous. His name? Bieber.
Not Justin, but “Amazing” Bieber – a Cambodian MC called up on Friday night to enchant an audience of young people in the capital.
“Amazing Bieber” is a teenage singing sensation. He also has no legs.
Last Friday, he and his band, Yodi, performed at the charity event Youth Bestival, held at Phnom Penh’s Cambodia-Korea Cooperation Centre (CKCC).
Four other young people with disabilities make up Yodi, which is composed of a bass player, guitarist, pianist and drummer. They were the star act of the event, which was intended to combat discrimination against disabled youth.
Under the theme “Hope, Love, Responsibility”, Youth Bestival was organised by the SEALNet Club Cambodia (SCC), an offshoot of the regional Southeast Asian Service Leadership Network, which promotes the support of disabled young people.
Their aim is to inspire and empower young people with disabilities through education and training in vocational skills, while also providing leadership skills to local high school and university students.
Friday’s concert was the second event SCC have organised since the project began in 2006, but they are hopeful that their brand of positive thinking will help tackle prejudice in the Kingdom.
In Cambodia, people with disabilities make up at least 8.1 per cent of the country’s population, according to the Ministry of Planning’s Institute of Statistics – one of the highest rates in the world.
In 2009, the International Labour Organisation identified people with disabilities as “among the most vulnerable groups in Cambodian society” on account of their lack of “equal access to education, training and employment”.
“[Cambodian people] don’t get a chance to visit disabled kids, so a lot of Cambodian people don’t acknowledge this issue,” says Supanat Kamtue, one the organisers of the SEALNet project.
For Ranjini Menon, another organiser, SCC’s goal is to promote the message that despite the fact there is still so much discrimination, there is also awareness of the needs among high school students.
After the set, Bieber said softly that he feels disappointed by the discrimination.
But it’s OK, he added, because he is more than happy to stand up for his rights. “When we know that we’re being discriminated again, we can talk back, saying that disabled youth also have the same rights. Whatever they can do, we can also do.”
Yodi want to raise funds for disabled children by performing in bars or at events. They sing in both Khmer and English. Contact: 098 373 634/017 256 513