KSH helps the mentally handicapped | Phnom Penh Post
Mental disabilities are not illnesses that can be completely cured by medicine or surgery. People who suffer from it need special education to learn to be independent and specialized professional training.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private educators, and public schools provide special education for children and adolescents, which primarily focuses on fine and gross motor skills, as well as basic general education.
Kampuchea Sela Handicap (KSH), a small Cambodian NGO, takes care of young adults with intellectual disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome or cerebral palsy.
“Whether they have Down’s syndrome, severe autism or mental retardation, these young people find it difficult to make a place for themselves in Cambodian society”, explains Valentin Dube, deputy director of KSH.
Dube said if more NGOs took care of the intellectually disabled public in their childhood, then their whole adult life could be changed. Currently, there are very few structures that welcome young adults and offer them a program of autonomy and integration into society.
Some Cambodians tend to see in intellectual disability through disability a manifestation of Karma, marked by a Buddhist fatality.
“Most families find themselves isolated and without real solutions for the care of mentally handicapped children and even less when it comes to finding a sustainable future for their child when he becomes an adult,” said Dube.
This is where KSH comes in. Its main objective is to support these young adults with mental disabilities towards integration and autonomy within Cambodian society while being able to claim financial autonomy for the association thanks to the work of their community.
KSH, supervised by 5 Cambodian educators and two European volunteers, is currently hosting 18 young adults (5 young men and 13 young women) in a home south of Phnom Penh, in the Meanchey district.
It includes a sheltered workshop to prepare them for employment and integration into Cambodian society.
“8 beneficiaries with mild disabilities have mental retardation or Down syndrome. 6 with moderate disability have Down syndrome or cerebral palsy and 4 with severe disability have autism,” Dube told the Post.
One of the parents, who asked not to be named, said their child, now 27, suffered from mental retardation.
They said that after completing the community life program and job readiness workshop, he now works in a social enterprise, Khmer Green Charcoal, near the NGO, but lives and sleeps in KSH.
“We hope that he will soon be independent. Thanks to his work in the partner company of the association, he earns a monthly salary of between 180 and 200 dollars. The company keeps part of his salary in savings while he learning the value of money. He also sends money to help support his siblings,” they said.
KSH was born from an observation made by several NGOs in Cambodia, in particular Pour un Sourire D’enfant, namely to develop continuity of care for their beneficiaries with an intellectual disability who have reached the age of 18.
Although employability and integration programs are implemented by several NGOs, for their beneficiaries with mental disabilities, employability remains almost impossible.
Dube explains that this is due to a lack of training of educators related to the problems of mental handicap in adults, to a still too archaic vision of a part of Cambodian society vis-à-vis mental handicap and to an environment almost non-existent work adapted to this segment of the public in the companies of the Kingdom.
A French couple, both specialized educators, was invited to come and support the development of a structure in Cambodia aimed at welcoming, training and integrating these unique young adults.
Foreign volunteers are there to support and encourage, but the work must be taken in hand by Cambodians.
As an NGO working with adults between the ages of 18 and 35, KSH welcomes people who have been cared for by other NGOs as children and adolescents, as most of them come from a very disadvantaged social background.
“Today, our young people are between 18 and 35 years old and suffer from various disabilities, ranging from autism, Down syndrome, mental retardation to cerebral palsy,” said Dube.
This diversity, he says, is one of the bases of our program and they have found that the cohabitation between young people brings real mutual support.
“Young people with mild disabilities take under their wing those with more severe disabilities. It is these kinds of values, such as solidarity and community life, that we want to instill in our young people,” added Dube.
KSH is rolling out several training and life skills programs for these young adults in hopes that they will one day be independent.
The Individual Development Program which has been transmitted to the local educational team is an educational tool present in Western countries and aims to develop the autonomy of the people in care.
Examples include explicit photos displayed in the facility that describe the routine that the team has established for each of the young people. They are tailored to areas in which they need to improve, such as hygiene, communication, daily tasks, etc.
In addition, they have a weekly meeting where each young person can express their feelings about what is going well and what is not going well.
“Our educators are also there to suggest areas for improvement and how to proceed. We also have several monthly assessment tools (motor skills, ability to communicate, adapt and process information. We are seeing considerable progress in most of our beneficiaries,” he said.
Young people are encouraged to work on one or more tasks at home by doing housework, maintenance, cooking or even a work preparation workshop while the team is there to supervise and advise them to s ‘to improve.
This is the only way for our beneficiaries to learn responsibility for themselves. One day they may be able to live independently,” he added.
Another couple, whose daughter has autism, said it was suggested to them that they should include her in KSH on her 18th birthday. She was cared for by an NGO when she was a child.
The parents, who have not been named – in accordance with NGO policy – said their daughter is in the community life program where she is responsible for cooking for the canteen as well as in the workshop where she cuts fruit for jam.
“We believe her disability will make it difficult for her to be independent in society, but KSH provides lifelong care for people in my daughter’s situation,” they said.
She is now able to better control her emotions, communicates with others and has a daily routine which is already very important to her, according to the parents.
In addition to their daily duties, they are trained to make products by learning the process step by step.
Dube said that the idea of cooking jams and syrups comes from the fact that the process is quite simple and allows most of them to have a suitable workstation for each step, such as cleaning the fruit, peeling , cutting, cooking, jarring, sticking labels on jars, etc.
“Over time, we realized that the workshop made it possible to reproduce most of the elements of the work context: arriving at a specific time at the workstation, having responsibilities, receiving a (symbolic) salary, etc. . “, he specifies. said, adding that the products met quality and hygiene standards.
The “Outside the Walls” program is designed to partner with cafes, restaurants and social enterprises where the most empowered young people will be trained and employed. They go home to their NGO every evening.
“In return, they receive a salary ranging from $60 to $200 depending on their level. During this program, our pedagogical team assesses them on several points, including the ability to communicate, to move and to understand the concept of money”, he specifies.
Dube said he has 6 beneficiaries in the program outside the walls, working for partner companies and returning home in the evening.
He admitted that teaching them the basics of life or training them to be self-sufficient is not easy. It takes a lot of patience and resilience as they can both progress and relapse very quickly.
However, they have made considerable progress and have been given responsibilities.
“On the contrary, over-protecting them in the belief that they are disabled and therefore unable to do anything will be counterproductive and will leave the individual totally dependent,” he added.
Although there is no official register of intellectual disabilities, it is estimated that there are around 20,000 cases of autism in Cambodia.
The challenge, says Dube, is not the disabled person, but the way society perceives them and the significant lack of means for them to integrate into today’s society.
In response to these challenges, KSH wishes to continue to intensify its mediation with the general public and local authorities on the conditions and recognition of people with intellectual disabilities in Cambodia.
“Our team is now part of several working groups to advocate for the cause of intellectual disabilities,” he said.