The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation has told The Rabbit School, a local NGO that educates autistic students, to move its operations from government-run National Borei for Infants and Children (NBIC) to a new premise, school director Hun Touch said.
The ministry’s directive was issued on July 31 as the government planned to make room for other disabled children from Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital, Touch said.
Operated under the ministry’s purview, the NBIC is a facility in the capital’s Meanchey district which houses hundreds of abandoned infants and children with learning disabilities, some of whom are also HIV-positive.
Touch confirmed that the school was now “seeking a rented space for its office and classrooms”, citing the possibility of merging its NBIC chapter with its other programme that is attached to a primary school in Tuol Kork district.
“We also had a meeting a few days ago to inform our staff about this change and to ask them to be ready to move all equipment and materials out of our old place to the new one, where we will start in mid-September,” he told The Post on Tuesday.
Touch admitted that the relocation plan to another side of the city might force some students drop out while some employees might resign as they will find the new location too far to travel from their houses.
The organisation itself might face a budget crisis, he said, as spending on new study materials, technical equipment and playground could increase, while funding from sponsors would likely remain the same.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t want to move out [of NBIC]. We expect the government to expand the building, so it could accommodate us too.
“We can’t afford to buy land or a building. We will be happy if we still could provide education to the children in the neighbourhood and have the government oversee our operations,” he said.
Established in 1997, The Rabbit School expanded its programme in 2008 at the Toul Kork Primary School and other institutions in Kampong Speu, Kandal and Siem Reap provinces.
It now provides education to 637 autistic children and employs 47 teachers nationwide.
Within the NBIC building, the school occupies four rooms, three of which are used as classrooms for its 70 students, while another is used as an office.
A parent of one of the students, Krai Sok Kanha, said she would stop sending her six-year-old son to the school as the new location is too far from their house.
“The government must pay greater attention to children with autism,” she said.
Touch Channy, the spokesman for the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, clarified that the government needed the extra space at the NBIC building to care for the disabled babies who were abandoned by their parents.
He said the number of such infants that Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital receives kept increasing every day.
“Years ago, we allowed them to borrow the space temporarily and they agreed that whenever the government needs it, they must return it without conditions.
“Right now, we are facing a problem with the rising number of abandoned infants. So, we have no options other than asking them to vacate the premise,” Channy said.
The ministry previously estimated that Cambodia has around 5,000 autistic children and 10 organisations that educated them.