The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has provided educational material to nearly 60 middle and high school students with disabilities as the new semester starts for schools that have been closed for more than a year and a half due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the ICRC press release on October 19, the handover event was held at a physical rehabilitation centre in Battambang province with the participation of 57 students from Battambang and neighbouring provinces.

ICRC said each student was given a backpack, books, stationary, and some were presented with bicycles for travel to school. An additional $50 was given to each student to assist them and their families in coping with the economic stress caused by the pandemic.

Dena Fisher, ICRC’s Head of Mekong Region Mission, said the donations were part of the organisation’s commitment to promoting social inclusivity for people with disabilities. Access to education is so important for children, particularly now when classes have been suspended for so long due to Covid-19.

“These donations are part of our support for the government’s efforts in helping thousands of people with disabilities . . . to regain mobility and reintegrate into society,” said Fisher.

“Despite the challenges, we have worked hard over recent months to ensure that other parts of the ICRC social inclusion programmes could continue, such as the provision of grants for people with disabilities to start small businesses.”

According to Phalla Keo, ICRC officer in charge of physical rehabilitation programme in Cambodia, the donations will assist students with disabilities to return to school when face-to-face learning resumes.

“We have all heard that the lower-income families in rural areas are hit harder by crises. That’s why one of the most heart-warming things I feel today is that what we do – small as it may seem – is playing a role in making sure that the children’s desire to learn is not extinguished by the hard times that people face today,” he said.

ICRC started its Physical Rehabilitation Programme back in 1991 to support communities affected by mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).

The organisation continues to work closely with Cambodia’s Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation in support of Phnom Penh’s orthopaedic component factory and Battambang and Kampong Speu provincial rehabilitation centres, which provide services across seven provinces in Cambodia.

ICRC said that close to 11,000 people have benefited from services provided at those centres every year. While there are still new patients with injuries caused by ERW. Services are also offered to victims of road traffic accidents, illness and other accidental injuries.

Yeap Malino, director of the social affairs ministry’s Department of Welfare for Disabled People, said on October 20 that there are currently more than 50,000 children with disabilities across Cambodia, with more than 6,000 children with disabilities studying in primary and special education schools.

“For the welfare for disabled people department, there are many partner organisations working to help people who have children with disabilities. But the ICRC is a strategic partner organisation that has helped people and children with disabilities in Battambang and Kampong Speu on physical rehabilitation,” he said.