Ouk Sambo "signs" in class
hat is life like when one can not even make the sounds that distinguish joy, pain
That was Ouk Sambo's world prior to her arrival at the Chbar Ampov School for the
Deaf and Mute (CASDM) four years ago.
"Now I know how to read and write," Sambo says in sign language, her smile
still betraying a trace of the anxiety that used to characterize her existence when
she could neither understand nor make herself understood to the people around her.
Sambo, 16, has been at the school since it was opened in 1997 by the Cambodian NGO
Krousar Thmei. The school, in Chbar Ampov, Meanchay district of Phnom Penh, has 142
students between the ages of seven and 16.
All students go through an orientation period of two to three months in which they
are taught a hybrid of Khmer and American sign language and the regimentation of
a school environment that the majority have never before experienced. The school
textbooks were specially developed by Krousar Thmei in co-operation with the Cambodian
Disabled People's Organization for use in a sign language learning environment.
According to Hellen Pitt, Advisor to the Disability Action Council (DAC), Krousar
Thmei's students are just a fraction of the estimated thousands of hearing impaired
children whose disability bars them from receiving an education. While no nationwide
survey of the hearing impaired population has ever been done, DAC surveys of Takeo
and Prey Veng provinces alone indicated more than 1000 children unable to attend
school because they were deaf.
Bin Sokha, CASDM's principal, told the Post that September 2002 would see the first
batch of its graduates sent to attend classes at Russey Sros primary school.
Along with allowing deaf/mute children exposure to mainstream society, Sokha says
the integration plan is also designed to smash discriminatory stereotypes popularly
held about deaf/ mutes.
Under the plan, classes that accept deaf/mute students will have both a regular teacher
and a Krousar Thmei teacher communicating to the deaf/mute students using sign language.
Krousar Thmei will provide a salary adjustment to teachers that accept deaf/mute
students into their classes as well as provide education programs to sensitive school
staff and students to the needs of deaf/mute classmates.
"I hope [the integration] will not cause hardship for deaf and mute students
who take normal classes," Sokha said. "They [normal children] can study
at public school, why can't we?"
According to Boeu Chandara, one of CASDM's teachers, deaf/mute students should not
encounter serious problems when they enter a mainstream school and might even have
an advantage in subjects such as mathematics as their brains were very good at catching
Philippa Thomas, Project Coordinator of Education for Children with Disabilities
at the Disabled Action Center, says that some teachers are initially nervous when
they first start to teach disabled students, but that trepidation quickly evaporates
as such children are often the best students in the class.
Thomas sees the Krousar Thmei integration plan at Russey Sros school as a potential
national model of how disabled students should be treated.
For Sambo's mother, Hiv Bunary, the difference that education has made on her daughter's
life has been immeasurable.