Walking the streets of any country around the world, one can find members of the disabled community begging, playing music, or even taking part in some kind of performance to gain sympathy and earn a few dollars.
But today, many have moved on to live more productive lives, thanks to skills gained through training programmes. Take the blind for instance . . . many of them have become adept at giving massages, and some have even started their own massage business.
A 2013 census conducted by the Ministry of Planning showed that the number of people with disabilities in Cambodia was 2.1 per cent or some 300,000. The figure is a 57 per cent increase from 2008.
Of those living with various kinds of disabilities, the blind are by far the largest group with about 35 per cent.
While some of them earn a living by depending on others, an independent group of six blind people who have no support from any institution, decided to join hands and take the risk to open a massage parlour with their own savings.
Today, the six run their own massage business called Bun Thoeun Seeing Hand Massage By Blind People.
Located in front of the Night Market at No. 18, Street 108, Phsar Chas commune, Daun Penh district, Phnom Penh, their patrons include Cambodians and international tourists and expatriates.
While none of the six are rookies, they still worried about whether they could get enough customers to pay the $600 monthly rent.
And, this is despite the fact that none of the six are rookies, having been giving massages and perfecting their skills for years.
It was with this confidence that they decided to set up on their own, starting with patrons who had known them for years.
Now in operation for just over a month, Long Srey Phoeuk who is a shareholder in the business says the group has seen some good and bad days.
“Despite being experienced masseurs, we still worried about not having customers and people accepting our service. This can affect our earnings and our ability to pay for the rent and living expenses,” she says.
Srey Phoeuk, who has been blind since birth, hails from Sihanouk province. She is 29, and has been giving massages since 2007 when she learnt the skill through Maryknoll, an international Catholic mission movement that operates in Cambodia as well.
Maryknoll received support from Japan, which provided the massage skills training that she and other disabled learnt.
Speaking about the benefits of getting a massage without using oil, instruments, or machines, Srey Phoeuk said: “We use massage techniques that use only our hands. This is a skill based on ancient Japanese techniques that we learnt through Maryknoll.
“The massage helps ease the condition of those who are affected with back pain as a result of sitting long hours at work. It can also ease workplace stress like neck strain and help improve blood flow through the veins.
“If one suffers from poor blood circulation for a long time, it can cause serious health issues and even cause a stroke.”
Srey Phoeuk stressed that while the masseurs are not medically qualified, their course also taught them about ailments that could result from poor blood circulation.
She says there are methods of using just hand massage with no oil to ease pain and help sufferers recover in stages. The healing process can be lengthy at times, depending on how long the person has been suffering from pain and poor circulation.
A customer, Tun Phearith, claims he feels far better after undergoing massage at Bun Thoeun Seeing Hand Massage by Blind People.
“I suffered from a painful neck and shoulder and now its far better. The masseurs here are effective and skillful.
“Of course, in the beginning, I too did not believe how just massaging the area can ease my pain, but some of my relatives who tried it got better, so I decided to follow them and now I am glad I did. The pain is almost gone,” he says.
Bun Thoeun Seeing Hand Massage by Blind People charges $5 for an hour for Cambodians and $7 for foreign nationals. It opens everyday from 7am to 11pm.”