Touch Pho and her two-year-old son Yan Pholeen.
n February 7, several blind women and survivors of acid attacks enjoyed a unique
chance to meet with a group of fellow blind and share their problems at a newly formed
Jane Welsh, management and project advisor at the Association of the Blind in Cambodia
(ABC) helped to organize the Cambodian Blind Women's Friendship Group. ABC also provides
Braille and English language lessons, and coordinates the Seeing Hands Massage centers.
Welsh said the aim of the Friendship Group is to provide vital therapy and support
to women who are often very isolated.
"There seems to be a gap in terms of support services and counseling, and linking
up with other blind women," Welsh said. "A lot of the blind women may feel
isolated because their families can be embarrassed or ashamed of them and keep them
at home - [and] don't let them out in public."
Droz Punya, information officer at the Disability Action Council, agreed that many
families tried to keep blind relatives at home due to a lack of awareness of their
"It is a good idea to provide them a forum to speak out, and allow families
to understand it is not just their children that are blind and that they have the
same rights as anyone else to participate in society," Punya said.
One member of the new group is 25-year-old acid attack victim Chour Sreya. In
1999 she was with friends at a market when someone drove past on a motorbike and
threw a cup of acid at her. She is now completely blind and her face, neck and arms
are covered with scars.
"I'm very happy because the women can understand each other and share experiences,"
she said. "This place can encourage me to study hard so in the future I can
find a job."
Welsh said that acid attack survivors face discrimination due to their appearance.
Two of the women at the group permanently wear kramas over their faces to hide their
"Some people can be quite cruel," she said. "They enjoy coming here
because people don't judge them."
Touch Pho, 34, is a blind masseur at Seeing Hands in Phnom Penh. She is also vice-president
of the ABC's Blind Women's Sub-Committee, which helped Welsh to organize the new
friendship group. Pho said she was "excited and happy" to take part.
"It is really interesting for blind people to discuss ideas and express feelings
to each other," Pho said. "I hope I can help other people in the group
about how to learn English and solve problems."
Eight women attended the first session. Meetings will be held monthly and Welsh hopes
the numbers will gradually increase.
"Hopefully from positive word of mouth families will see the benefits of allowing
their daughters, sisters or wives to attend the session," she said.