A chance meeting bringing people together
As AVID volunteer Mark Morris writes, a meeting with a rural Cambodian family with three deaf children brought both people and organisations together to strengthen disability work across Thailand and Cambodia.

By Mark Morris with input from Selwyn Hoffman

Photo courtesy Mark Morris.

Mark Morris is a Disability Inclusion Training Officer working at the Asia-Pacific Development Centre for Disability (APCD) in Bangkok, Thailand.

APCD’s mission is to promote barrier-free society and empowerment of persons with disabilities in all ASEAN countries.

Further, it is to develop networking and collaboration among Government organisations, NGOs, community organisations and disabled persons organisations, in order to promote barrier-free society and empowerment of persons with disabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Mark’s role is to support the APCD’s Japanese ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF) project, which aims to create Non-Handicapping Environments (NHE) in rural communities in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar.

In simple terms, creating an NHE means assisting local community key stakeholders (including persons with disabilities) to develop their communities to be accessible for all.

This means all buildings and services are accessible and include challenging and changing attitudes of entire communities about disability.

As part of this process the project has been conducting a baseline survey to profile persons with disabilities in each local district, access auditing buildings such as schools, health centres, and district offices, as well as gauge community values and attitudes towards disability.

While surveying in the district of Kien Svay, in Kandal Province, Cambodia, Mark was privileged to be part of the profiling team that met with a family with 3 deaf children.

After meeting the family, Mark had a thought- he remembered another AVID volunteer who he had met at the last AVI annual in-country meeting for Thailand and Cambodia who is also working in the disability sector in the same region.

The other AVID volunteer, Selywn Hoffman, is hearing impaired himself, and is working as an Activities Coordinator at the Deaf Community Development Program (DDP) of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, a program under the auspices of the Maryknoll Order.

Selwyn’s main role at the DDP is to provide the opportunity to learn sign language to as many deaf people as he can.

Just as with spoken language, each country has its own sign language, which has necessitated Selwyn mastering Cambodian sign language.

Together with the support of the Cambodian Government’s Disability Action Council, Mark and Selwyn organised a joint field visit to the Cheuteal Commune Office and the family’s home in Kien Svay District.

Dr. Un and Mr. Sambath, partners of the APCD/JAIF Project from the DAC, facilitated the visit.

Accompanied by a Cambodian sign language interpreter, Selywn found he was able to immediately communicate via sign language with two of the children in the family.

This family had been fortunate to have already had prior contact with the DDP and though one child had not yet learned sign language, the other two deaf children had been supported by the DDP to learn sign language. Many young deaf people have not had that chance.

Selwyn chatted to the family for some time and passed on resources for the deaf members of the family.

As a result of the meeting, a regional organisation called APCD has been able to link up and rekindle communication pathways between government (DAC) and non-government (DDP) disability agencies.

Despite organisations focusing on their own projects, Mark and Selwyn found it is possible to step back and facilitate communication between organisations.

This has the positive effect of strengthening disability development in not only local communities but on a larger scale, between two countries.

AVI has volunteers in the area of disability inclusion across South East Asia, with assignments in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam working in the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program.

This is a position of Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID), an Australian Government, AusAID initiative. AVI is working in partnership with AusAID to deliver AVID.

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