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Supporting those who need help

A student practices sign language skills at the Maryknoll Deaf Development program in Phnom Penh in August
A student practices sign language skills at the Maryknoll Deaf Development program in Phnom Penh in August. HONG MENEA

Supporting those who need help

Dear Editor,

We have read the article about the deaf community published on August 23. We were positively happy that you shed a light on this important issue.

However, we believe that approximations and misinterpretation have undermined the quality of this article.

As founder, director and coordinator of Krousar Thmey, we cannot remain silent about the gaps in this article. Indeed, one can only notice the lack to mention the strong commitment and prominent role played by our organisation, Krousar Thmey, in the access to education for thousands of deaf children.

Krousar Thmey, a Cambodian NGO for disadvantaged children run by Cambodians for Cambodians, created a complete system of education for deaf children. After having developed a Cambodian Braille system and opening the first schools for blind children in 1993, Krousar Thmey opened, in 1997, the first school for deaf or hard-of-hearing children in Phnom Penh.

In 1997, given the absence of a native sign language and the need to provide numerous deaf children with an appropriate education, it was urgent to create a functioning sign language.

The only available option at that time was to start with an existing one. After studying the most common sign language used in neighbouring countries, so as not to isolate Cambodian deaf people from the other deaf communities in the ASEAN region, American Sign Language was chosen.

We knew evolution would be necessary, to “cambodianise” some signs. Therefore, as early as 1997, a sign language committee has operated within Krousar Thmey to adapt American signs to Cambodian signs.

Sixteen years later, Krousar Thmey has opened five schools for deaf children and welcome 700 deaf children every year from kindergarten to high school. Krousar Thmey offers deaf children a curriculum in accordance with the curriculum of the Ministry of Education in order to be integrated within Cambodian society and not to be stigmatised as “different”.

We work with the Ministry of Education to allow Cambodian deaf youngsters to have access to national exams.

The foundation has started to kit deaf children out according to their degree of deafness as early as 2001 (thanks to the help of a French association of hearing aid specialists, named EnfantsSourds du Cambodge, who also train Cambodian staff to check children’s degree of deafness and molding hearing aids accordingly); and provide them with speech therapy classes so they can learn to vocalise.

Besides, integrated and inclusive classes are open in rural areas so deaf children who live far away from special schools can have access to an adapted education without leaving their family. Teachers are trained by Krousar Thmey.

The foundation now has the experience and the knowledge to be a reference for teacher-training regarding education for deaf or blind children.

Krousar Thmey is also working to accompany deaf young adults towards a job, training or university of their choice. The Academic and Career Counseling department follows up on the children supported by Krousar Thmey after they graduate, guiding them and supporting them financially if needed.

Since 2004, Krousar Thmey has organised the first translation of TV news live in sign language. The first aim was to raise awareness, to open Cambodians to the existence of sign language.

But today, through two TV channels (TV Bayon and TVK) offering daily news translated into sign language, most of the deaf people educated in Cambodia have access to the news.

To say that most of the deaf community cannot understand what is provided by these TV channels is a misinterpretation of reality. All the more, since the largest sign language users in Cambodia have been trained within our schools.

Since March 2013, Krousar Thmey has been working with DDP (Deaf Development Program) in order to harmonise the two sign languages that have been developed and used over the years in Cambodia. For the Cambodian deaf community, the aim is to have one language they can be comfortable with.

No screening project has yet been implemented to know the exact number of deaf or hard-of-hearing people present in Cambodia. Many things remain to be done in order to fully include people with hearing impairment into their community.

However, it would be incorrect and misleading to pretend that nothing has been achieved or even just tempted to move towards an inclusive society in Cambodia. All deaf children are welcome to register to one of our schools (in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap or Kampong Cham) as school will start on October 7, 2013.

The children will be tested to determine their level of deafness and register in the proper class according to their knowledge in sign language. For any information, call Krousar Thmey on 023 880 503.

Benoît Duchateau-Arminjon, Founder President,
Hervé Roqueplan, General Director,
Hang Kimchhorn, Coordinator of the program of education for deaf children