In the small village of Phum Krouch, a two-hour drive away from Phnom Penh, Siek Srey Da lives with her family. The eleven-year-old girl has been deaf-mute since her birth but this does not stop her from going to school.
Her mother works as a construction worker in the North-East of Cambodia, very far away from Phum Krouch. Srey Da lives with her grandmother and five other children whose parents work in other provinces. Their house is surrounded by rice fields. Chickens run around in the courtyard and puppies play in the grass.
Srey Da is enrolled in Grade 2 at Preah Chhor primary school and she happily rides her bike to school every day. She is one of the six deaf-mute children in this school. Here, the teachers are trained to work with disabled children and classes are designed to be inclusive.
Srey Da is now enjoying her classes and spending time with her classmates, but that was not always the case.
“She started in a nearby school but they didn’t have the expertise, so she moved to this new school. She performs better and learns more than before. In the old school, she was the only child with disabilities and she had no peers to discuss and play with,” explains her grandmother.
Preah Chhor primary school is part of an inclusive education programme implemented by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) and funded by UNICEF.
As part of the programme, Srey Da’s teacher, Reach Vibol Rith, participated in a training on inclusive education where she learned specific skills needed to teach children with disabilities.
During the training, Reach Vibol Rith learnt how to identify potential signs of disability and impairment and how to teach and best support her students.
“I have been teaching deaf-mute children for two years, I am the only one who accepted to teach this class,” explains Reach Vibol Rith, who has been a teacher for more than 30 years.
“I wanted to improve my teaching to help children in my community. I love children,” says Reach Vibol Rith. She received training on inclusive education in 2018 but before that, she taught herself the sign language so that she could teach deaf-mute children.
“If she goes to higher Grades, she may have a good job in the future,” says Srey Da’s grandmother, while Srey Da and her friend proudly show their grades in their school notebooks.
Srey Da is thriving in her new primary school, she has excellent grades and is enjoying learning among her peers.