The Ability, Not Disability
July 20, 2023
Written by: An Kimsan, WWD-LAN Women with Disabilities
English translation by: Norah Lay, Volunteer in LLC
Edited by: Makara Phan, Linking and Learning Project Manager
[Trigger warning: suicide]
Dim Sophea is 31 years old and has had a CP disability (difficulty moving and speaking) since birth. She lives in Chamkar Samrong village, Battambang province. After her father’s passing in 2010 and her mother in 2017, she now lives with her two brothers and plays an important role as the head of the family.
Sophea is unemployed and has no clear job. She earns a fee by riding a motorbike for the company selling motorbikes, where she drove around 30 kilometers to another company selling motorbikes in Battambang Town. She earned 10,000 riels, or 2.5 dollars per drive, which she uses for family consumption. Every time she drove the motorbike, she felt fear because she has difficulty in mobility and control as part of her disability. She had to ride the motorbike on rough and slippery roads during the rainy season. During the drive on the road, many cars, big trucks and dump trucks drove very fast, almost overtaking her. Sometimes, she slips over edge of the road line. During her drive on the motorcycle, she frequently saw the big truck with the motorcycle almost crash in front of her, which made her shocked, stressed, and valueless.
She didn’t want to continue this job anymore; however, she had no choice. If she stops driving the motorcycle, the family will be starving. She also said, “That time of my life is gone, it is gone, as the accidenct is in front of my eyes.” She is exhausted and always blames herself for being worthless. She had attempted suicide twice. Her neighbor always pointed out, “Ah, Phea (Sophea), why are you still studying? No one will hire you if you are disabled like this.” Those words caused her trauma; she dropped out of school at Grade 12, faced difficulty in writing, has no knowledge of the English language and is unable to use a computer. She has no idea about looking for a job to earn the income because she has no skill or capacity.
Earlier in 2021, she met a WWD-Lan staff looking for a support assistant (she has a spinal cord injury, used a wheelchair, and needed an assistant for support) to attend the workshop with WWD-Lan at the Emiral BB Hotel in Battambang. During the workshop, Sophea saw a lot of women members of WWD-Lan with different types of disabilities, some even more serious than Sophea’s. She, however, also noticed that they all had different abilities, which made her feel more comfortable being part of the group at the workshop. At that time, she also got to know the KHEN staff, who came to attend the workshop together and also called her to help with some work and tasks at the organisation, which provided her a little extra income. In November 2021, Sophea registered and became a member of WWD-LAN in the RISING UP project funded by the Voice. Previously, she would have never dared to go far from home alone because she was afraid and ashamed, but after she became a member of WWD-LAN. She participated in many training courses, workshops and other activities. She gained the conviction that made her dare to attend seminars in Phnom Penh or anywhere available for her to be able to learn new knowledge and for personal development.
In December 2021, with the encouragement and support of a member of the Women with Disabilities group, she had the courage to write and apply for a small grant of USD 1,000 from the WWD-LAN project to be implemented in Chamkar Samrong district, Battambang Province. Although she found it difficult to speak because of her disabilities, she was able to lead the activity and provide the presentation in the workshop as planned. In the same project, she allocated a budget of USD 150 to contribute to renovating the ramp slopes for wheelchair use at her village. Many people with disabilities who go in and out to receive services there, but due to the low budget, the commune was not able to renovate them according to a sustainable and accessible standard, and this slope was left for eight months.
On August 9, 2022, Sophea had the opportunity to attend a meeting with Battambang Provincial Hall. She raised the challenge and asked for support from the province to facilitate the renovation of the ramp slope at Chamkar Samrong commune. At that time, Excellency Sok Lou, Battambag deputy provincial governor, immediately responded by taking the action as requested by Sopehea. After the meeting, the team from the provincial hall inspected the slope and decided to build a new one to meet the state ‘s standards. The ramp slope was completed on October 18, 2022, according to the standard, and now many people with disabilities use the ramp to access various services in Chamkar Samrong. This is her first work achievement, making her proud of herself, and many institutions began to recognise her. Some institutions working in the field of disability invited her to attend workshops and selected her as a focal person in the project as well as in the organisation.
In December 2022, she decided to quit her job as a motorcyclist and started studying how to use a computer, learning Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. After learning computer skills through her hard work and the dedication to the team, KHEN has offered her the opportunity to become an office assistant, located in Battambang provincial town. The night before her first work day, she could not sleep. She felt nervous, mixed with happiness because she did not know anything, whether it was hard or not because of foreseen difficulty in writing. She also feared damaging the documents, making it more difficult for other co-workers. She thought again, “They’ve seen me having a hard time so far like this, and they still call me to work with them, maybe they want to give me a chance to do it, so I have to try.” After coming to work for a while, she thanks the team for their support, guidance and for providing the opportunity for her to learn new things. She felt like she was part of a family. Now she feels so proud of herself, she would have never imagined reaching this level. Sometimes she would sit while thinking to herself,
“Before I was useless, but now I have a job, an honor to participate in society, and work with an organisation I look up to, which I always thought I could not do. Now that I have achieved my dream I have to keep trying; I must not give up!”
In addition, her neighbors stopped criticising her and started praising her, saying that it was better for her to have a job and earn a living. Sophea now receives invitations by various organisations working in the field of disability to attend seminars and to be a guest speaker to share her experiences with the participants.
To people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities: do not let them think that they have a disability that makes them feel like they cannot do anything; don’t do anything to give them this negative idea. Do not give up; they must find opportunities to develop themselves through participation in society, attending workshops and learning various skills that they enjoy to the best of their ability.
“Look at your abilities and look for opportunities to develop yourself by participating in all activities in society.”