Initially, I was encouraged. In my rural town of Prey Veng, children with disabilities were embraced in the community and participated in the local church I attended.
I was shocked, however, to discover that the majority of children with disabilities were simply staying home while their peers were attending school.
This revelation came when my colleague Maly and I were meeting with families in a particularly impoverished region. I noticed a mother in the back of the room holding a young boy with Cerebral Palsy.
Lina, the boy’s mother, explained that she had little support for her three-year-old son, Nath. She wondered if I could help find a program that could support his needs. I promised to do what I could and returned to the village a few days later to collect basic information so that a local Cambodian organization could send field staff out to assess Nath’s needs.
I left completely ….overwhelmed.
Upon arriving, I found a line of four children with significant physical disabilities waiting to meet with me.
I realized that Cambodian children with disabilities face a crisis of accessibility. In a country with little-to-no systematic safety nets for its citizens, the vulnerable slip through the cracks. It quickly became important to me to ensure that MCC play a part in promoting educational inclusion for children with disabilities in Cambodia.
Networking and researching led me to the National Working Group on Education and Disabilities. Now a part of the working group I’ve been able to collaborate monthly with some of the most brilliant minds in inclusive education in Cambodia. Being only one of two foreign contributors, I’ve been immensely encouraged by the unrelenting passion of Cambodians to mandate, monitor and regulate inclusive education for children with disabilities.
I’m grateful to MCC and the wider church for embracing and supporting initiatives for inclusive education. I'm inspired and thankful that the teachers of our rural partner schools are breaking out of their traditional teaching methods in order to make learning accessible to not just some, but all students in their communities.
Vince Stange is originally from Indiana, USA. A trained special education teacher, Vince has served as Education Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee in Cambodia since 2015.