The Marist Solidarity Cambodia (MSC) LaValla Project provides a range of initiatives that seek to provide education and training for children and young people with a disability.
Disability in Cambodia
There are an estimated 360,000 children and young people under the age of 20 living with a disability in Cambodia. The challenges faced by those with a physical disability are institutional and mainly due to inadequate services available – only 10% of schools have ramps and seated toilets; teachers not knowing how to teach children with a disability; and the stigma and discrimination faced with many Cambodians believing that disability is a result of bad karma for misdeeds in that persons’ previous life. Handicap International (2009) report that ‘high levels of poverty, distance to travel to school and difficulties in finding accessible transport are also key barriers to education’.
LaValla School was founded in 1998 and offers a full primary education to children and young people living with a physical disability. The students mainly come from poor, rural areas, and because of their disabilities are unable to attend their local school. They are mostly referred to LaValla School by other NGO’s working in the Provinces as a pivotal structure of the school is offering boarding options to enable the most vulnerable to attend. LaValla School has around 90 students enrolled every year with a range of disabilities including cerebral palsy, polio and amputations as a result of accidents or congenital conditions. Classes follow the national curriculum but also incorporate English, computers, art and music studies. There are 10 qualified teachers on staff, all of whom have a physical disability themselves, who act as role models and mentors for the students. As well as receiving an education, students have access to health and rehabilitation services including physiotherapy and prosthetic management at the dedicated Health and Rehabilitation department at LaValla School.
Inclusive Education Programme
After completing Grade 6 at LaValla School, the preference of MSC is that students return to their home and attend their local government secondary school. For those students where this is possible, MSC provides assistance in the form of uniforms, materials and minor modifications to the schools (where feasible) that improve accessibility such as wheelchair ramps and toilet upgrades. Unfortunately, due to many students living in isolated rural areas, it is not possible to continue their secondary education. These students are offered hostel accommodation at the LaValla Village while they attend a local secondary school in Takhmao and continue to receive rehabilitation services. This reintegration into mainstream schooling is important for them to regain independence, self-confidence and help break down barriers amongst the wider community. Some students are offered the opportunity to undertake tertiary studies or vocational training. There are a total of 126 students in this programme in 2020/21.