Oun Sreyda’s Story of Change
Written by CHHUN Chakriya, Project Coordinator, Women Peace Makers
Edited by GILMORE Sabrina, Volunteer, Women Peace Makers
This story of change was gathered by Women Peace Makers, an Influencing grantee partner whose project aims to change the public narrative of women in Cambodia facing multiple exclusions. They also target to influence relevant policies and enter discussions both at the local and national levels through mobilisation and skills-building of the focus rightsholder groups (indigenous women, women who are blind, ethnic & cultural minorities, and the LGBTI community).
Oun Srey Da, was born on 15 March 2000 with a visual impairment at Thlok Village Spue Khor Commune, Ba Phnom District, Prey Veng Province. Sreyda is the youngest child in a farming family with one older brother and one older sister. In her family, she is the only one who has a disability. Being virtually impaired, her mother endeavored to take Seryda to Kean Kleang Hospital in Phnom Penh Capital. Unfortunately, the doctor from the city informed them that Sreyda had an optic fundus that could not be cured. The optic fundus only allows Sreyda to see the world through a blurry left eye. Besides her difficulty in seeing, she is curious, especially when it comes to gaining an education. When she turned seven years old, Seryda took a kindergarten class at Thlok Mongkul Primary School. She rode a bike to school for two days. Unfortunately, her bike was stolen. With the challenges that come with her disability, especially as she took a class with those with no disabilities, she decided to drop out.
However, this could not stop Sreyda from her spirit of inquiry to get an education. Her mother’s friend introduced her to the Association of the Blind in Cambodia where she could study Braille. So Sreyda left home, stayed in a dorm with the other blind women, and sometimes walked or rode a Cyclo to school. She studied at the Association of the Blind in Cambodia for five years, from grade 1 until grade 5. Then, one day when she was 12 years old, she was playing with her cousin and was hit by the sand, which made her ability to see the world worsen.
Having no more funds to support from the Association of the Blind in Cambodia, she went to study at Krousar Thmey organization located in Sen Sok City, Phnom Penh Capital. Even so, she had to pay 15$ per month. As her family could no longer support her, she could study brille there for only two years, from grade 6 to grade 7. Then, in 2014 and 2015, she returned to her hometown and took a braille class at Speu Khor High School.
During that time, she passed a National Assessment Grade 9 Examination. In 2018, she moved to study at Boeung Preas High School. She studied there from grade 10 and grade 11. There, she was bullied by her friends, and they always made a joke about her. They said, “Even though I have no disability, I cannot catch up with the lessons; how about you as a blind woman? “You are blind, can you also eat cookies?” “How can you go to buy the cookies?”
When she turned to grade 12, she had to move to study at a Catholic church in Cambodia because the teachers in the Ministry of Education could not understand Braille. Having difficulty moving, she sometimes fell down along the road and walked through the rain. Within that year, she passed Bac II Examination on December 27, 2021. After passing the Bac II examination, she applied for a scholarship in Khmer Literature at one of the famous universities in Cambodia, the Royal University in Phnom Penh. 2021 was the best achievement for her as she won the scholarship to pursue her education, but even with the scholarship financial support would remain the biggest challenge for her. After receiving good news, she thought about how she could pursue her education as she had no budget to support her living in the city.
Fortunately, she heard the announcement to select blind women trainees to take Anma and Shiatsu Therapeutic Massage training courses at Nika’s Seeing Hand Massage Center under the support of Women Peace Makers (WPM). With the support from their family and her willingness, Sreyda had no hesitation in applying and was selected to take the training course at Nika’s Seeing Hand Massage Center. She moved to stay in one rental house with the other trainees for three months. During the three months, she got to know other trainees, gained skills, and took an online class simultaneously. Participating in the program not only earned her massage skills but also gave her a connection with others. She was invited to join the Public Forum “Voices from Minority Girls,” in which around 80 participants from various organizations and ministries met at one famous hotel in Phnom Penh. It was the first time she is joining such a big event, and she met many people from different institutions, “I was impressed, and it was a memorable moment for me,” she mentioned. She was also invited to join a Book Launching at Le Vin Phnom Penh in the evening. She said,
“Before, I did not know much about Minority groups, but once I participated in the events, I learned more about Minority groups.”
Before the training course, she was instructed to know how to care for herself and her hygiene. But, she shared, “before joining the training course, I was a person who always followed my mind and did what I wanted to do. After joining, I learned a lot from others, adapted myself, and became flexible. We are not living alone, so we must understand others if we want others to understand us.” She added that she cannot wait to see the significant event of the Blind Art Centered Exhibition that she has been involved in to express and show the public a little piece of what it is like to be blind and the need for better resources for blind people want blind women to the public.
“Whenever there is discrimination, there is no peace and breakdown of unity.”
As a blind woman, she encounters many challenges in her life, such as transportation, discrimination, bullying, and unemployment. Whenever she has to move somewhere, it is very challenging for her to move without support from others. She was bullied and discriminated against by her friends and others. Since childhood, she has always worried about her career as she was blind and constantly afraid that no one would hire her. In high school, she used to wash cloth for her neighbors and sing at weddings to earn money and support her education and her family. In 2018, she competed in a song competition and was voted number 1 in the Music for Women with Disability program.
Her hard work and desire led her to significant achievements in her life. On the closing ceremony: Anma and Shiatsu therapeutic Massage for Women with Disability held on 14th July 2022 at DK Meeting Center with the involvement of Ministry of Women Affairs H.E. Nhem Morokot, Under Secretary of State of Ministry of Women’s Affairs, CSO etc. Sreyda voiced on the stage to showcase her big achievement and the ability of Blind People:
“I used to get the general knowledge, but now I successfully can get a skill which is really important for me, especially as a blind woman as it is very challenging for blind people to get a job. As blind women, we have the ability to access education and work. I am thanks to the Trainer. Ms. Tath Nika and the support from Women Peace Makers for allowing and supporting me. As a result, I am able to work to earn a living to support myself as well. I am now a Year 1 student at Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP). This showcase that we as a disability people have the ability and show that we can do it.”
As a result, the graduation ceremony was conducted at Diakonia Centre on July 14, 2022, the graduation was presided over by H.E Nhem Morokot, Under Secretary of State of Ministry of Women’s Affair. Her Excellency expressed her support and appreciation for the effort and dedication of trainers and 5 trainees for 3 months.
After successfully graduating from 3 months training course, she received a certificate that she had completed 3 Months Massage Training course. Now, she has been selected to work at Massage Post Station Center. She now not only pursues her education but also supports herself financially. “What I am interested in from the program is about sharing and listening. I love how WPM team facilitates and takes care of us because, as blind woman, we rarely are understood others. “Our Turn” is an essential program as we can amplify our voice to the public to stop discrimination. They provide space for us to build our capacity and share with others.” Sreyda loves sharing and dreams of being a Khmer Teacher.