Forty-eight Cambodians will graduate today from what is being heralded as the Kingdom’s first speech-therapy training program.
The graduates have been trained to fill a void in speech- and language-therapy services for an estimated 536,000 people in Cambodia affected by communication and swallowing disorders, according to a research paper released in September.
“This is a huge leap forward for a country in serious need of more people trained to provide mental and physical rehabilitation,” said Dr Bhoomikumar Jegannathan, director of the Catholic relief agency Caritas Cambodia's Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, which pioneered the program along with the Singapore International foundation.
“Speech therapy is nonexistent in most of Indochina, and Cambodia really has no resources [in this field],” he said.
Graduates will be certified by the Speech, Language and Hearing Association of Singapore (SHAS) and CCAMH, Jegannathan said yesterday.
Primarily trained to work with children, today’s graduates are required to have a minimum of two years’ experience working with developmentally disabled children, along with a willingness to work with sponsoring agencies including New Humanity, Rabbit School, Smile of Children and CCAMH, Jegannathan added.
“In the public sector, there are no clinics or hospital programs focused on speech and language therapy in the country and maybe one or two in the private sector,” he said.
Speech and language therapy can be used to help those with learning, communication and swallowing disorders, as well as epilepsy or cognitive impairments, according to the September research from NGO Capacity Building of People with a Disability in the Community Organization.
The report pushes for funding for speech therapy programs in Cambodia’s national universities.
Ly Sophea, who is employed by Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) and will receive her certification today, noted the training had already positively supplemented her eight years’ experience working with children.
“I think it’s difficult, but I like this work. I have to think about … what I should do to [help them learn to swallow], and how to explain how they can do it differently,” Sophea said yesterday, adding that while the work required a large amount of patience, she took pride in helping children thrive.
Laurie Clarke, a pediatric speech and language therapist working for Indigo, a private child-development clinic in Phnom Penh, highlighted the need for more trained specialists in the Kingdom.
“There is a huge demand for this kind of work throughout the country and very little understanding as to why a child might be struggling to understand and formulate sentences or properly swallow food,” Clarke said yesterday, noting that children struggling with speech or language disabilities in Cambodia are often confronted with fewer job opportunities and a lower quality of life.