I chose this cover photo today for two reasons. The first is that it has rained the past two evenings. And for those of you who know how much I love storms, you can appreciate my excitement. The rain has cooled it down a bit and made it less dusty too. My friend said he thinks the rainy season is coming a little early this year. I feel like it's a special gift!
The second reason I chose this picture is that it looks like some of the countryside I have been to lately. I met with one organization (CABDICO) who are based out of Siem Reap and target more rural locations, that have no other disability services (and often no other services altogether). We met together and discussed obstacles they face, common things they see, and their ideas for future progress to better reach those living in rural parts of the country.
Then, by traveling down dirt roads on motos, we went on some visits. One family we visited have a nine year old son with cerebral palsy (or so they believe based on their observations and label because there are no professionals or procedures in country to diagnose). I learned that for the first six years of his life, his family had no idea what to do and were so ashamed, they kept him in the living space of their house (the second floor, which is common housing setup). He was not able to talk or walk, but would crawl around despite pretty severe spasticity. They fed him laying down, because they knew he had difficulty closing his lips and swallowing. Staff explained that the family believed karma and felt so much shame.
CABDICO learned of the family and began to build a relationship with them, teaching them techniques such as better feeding positioning and helped him get a wheelchair, supporting and encouraging them to bring him out of the house. They also worked with the family to change his name, from a khmer word meaning something very negative about karma to a word meaning (roughly translated) lovely like gold :)
When we arrived, he was sitting in his wheelchair next to their small roadside stand, with his mother, father, and sister. He has a small radio in his lap and worked diligently until he was able to press the button, filling the air with hip-hop type dance music. We all danced around and he laughed at us.
One of CABDICO's staff interacting with the boy. Photo taken and shared with permission from CABDICO and the family.
They explained that he still has no access to medical care, therapy (except what they are able to provide and demonstrate based on their limited training), and doesn't go to school. But him and his family have support now and his life has already changed in so many ways. They said many of the children around now know him and sometimes push his wheelchair down the road. Alongside of helping him, CABDICO also helped the family brainstorm the idea to have this roadside stand, taking small steps toward a better economic situation for the family and raising the entire family up (in those ways I was talking about in the poverty posts).
As we said goodbye to the family, jumped back on the motos and road back down the road, Eang pointed out to me that we were by one of the outer back entrances to one of the Angkor Wat ruin temples. I mean, this family's house is within a few kilometers of that back gate leading to ancient ruins, where tourists flock. And I started thinking about how close in proximity so many people had been to this child for years without even knowing he was there. Myself included.
How can something, no I need to say that differently, SOMEONE, so important, so beautiful, so in need, go unknown? And our partners including CABDICO tell us, they know that right now it so often does right now and they can only reach so far.
But the social change is beginning with partners and families in situations like this.
Please focus your thoughts and prayers on families of children and adults with disabilities like this one, that are ashamed, overwhelmed, and lacking support. And for more ways we (all of us) can help to make sure these lives do not go unnoticed anymore.
And I am now packing up and getting ready to fly out tomorrow, so my next (and likely the last) post, at least in this series, will probably be from when I am back in the U.S. So please also send thoughts and prayers for safe travels and my continued processing all that I've taken in.
I am so many things right now, but mostly just grateful to be called to this journey and to have so much support and love from so many of you.