Last month we introduced you to Courtney, one of our ABLE Technical advisers. This month she reflects on her experience of accompanying one of our ABLE children to a medical appointment.
We arrive at the hospital and wander around the massive grounds until we find the pediatric therapy center. Long is a high-energy 12 year-old that loves to play and explore new places. As we wait, his curiosity guides him to the green grass, thorn-covered flowers, and puddles of newly collected rain water. His mother is extra attentive, encouraging Long to keep his pants clean and shirt tucked in for what seems like the thirteenth time. She reminds him to be careful of the thorns, in only a way a mother would, fidgeting, straightening and re-straightening his hair. While Long’s mother plays with him in the courtyard we get to know the other clients waiting to be seen for therapy.
Mother and Child: Not the answer they were expecting
As we go around the circle nearly everyone identifies them self as staff of a certain orphanage. They point to their perspective children, not calling them by name but instead “goan angkar” which literally translates to “child of the organization.” The staff are curious about which orphanage we work for and we explain the CIF model. We share the principles of community-based care and the success and challenges of family placement for vulnerable children in Cambodia. Our CIF staff introduces Long as “goan,” meaning “child” and his foster mother as “Ma’dye ,” meaning “mother.” All members of the waiting room are now curious and asking questions like:
“Your orphaned children live in families?”
“How do their communities respond to them?”
“How do you facilitate school inclusion for their learning needs?”
“The expats that work at CIF speak Khmer?”
Our staff explain over and over (and over) again that Long lives just like any other child. He is able to experience all the freedoms of typical children. Long is receiving an education. He is part of a loving family. And he has the freedom to make friends and to spend time with them around the community.
Disability care in Cambodia
The staff’s surprise is not unwarranted. Many Cambodian children with disabilities are vulnerable to abandonment and institutionalization. Health services and family support systems are still limited in Cambodia. Medical care for children with chronic illness or disability is difficult to access and often limited in scope of services. These challenges leave many loving parents with a difficult decision. They often choose to entrust their children with disabilities to orphanage care hoping to provide a better future for them.
Many organizations around Cambodia have responded to this need by establishing loving shelters for these children with complex medical needs. With the help of international finances they are able to cover the medical expenses, therapy appointments, and medication needed to provide for the children in their care.
CIF’s ABLE program shares this same passion, but instead has experimented with a different approach. We recognize that caring for a child with a chronic illness or disability is difficult in Cambodia. Financial, medical, and therapeutic support is needed to ensure full lives for each child. ABLE staff have brought those same services to the families themselves, instead of localizing those services within an orphanage or children’s village. We believe that Cambodian families, when provided with the right support, are more than capable of caring for their children with disabilities or terminal illness. Support for the family is the missing piece.
Although it is not easy providing services to families in their homes and communities, it has proven worth it. Long is a living example and his mother’s component care is a testimony. Support for the family provides a chance for Long to be called ‘child’ and his mother to be called ‘mother’ and share all the normality of life in a family.