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The blind helping the blind

The blind helping the blind

Blind.jpg
Blind.jpg

Touch Pho and her two-year-old son Yan Pholeen.

O

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

friendship group.

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

rights.

"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

scars.

"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.

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