Bringing the sound dimension to deaf children in Cambodia

Have you ever gotten into a hive? Me no. However, it is the feeling that invades me when I enter the buildings of the Institute of Specialized Education for Deaf and Blind Children in Phnom Penh Thmey on Tuesday.

Of course there are children everywhere, but not only…. 15 or so Barangs is busy sitting in a small corner of the table and seems to be entering precious data into a laptop … Who chooses miniaturized electronic devices … Who claps loudly in the hands behind the backs of children who remain focused.

I’m a little confused, but I quickly understand that what appears to be agitation is a well-rehearsed ballet, where everyone is well versed in the task they have been assigned.

In fact, I am immersed in the 38th mission of the Deaf Children of Cambodia (ESC), a French NGO that, as the name suggests, provides assistance and assistance to deaf children in the Kingdom.

The children around me, explains Olivier Louvel, ENT doctor, all suffer from severe or deep deafness. The Ministry of Education provides them with specialized teaching in the five schools spread across the country (two in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap, Battambang and Kampong Cham).

It was Benoît Duchâteau-Arminjon, founder of the NGO Krousar Thmey, who set up specialized schools for blind children and then for deaf children in Cambodia at the end of the war. He officially handed them over to the Cambodian Ministry of Education in 2019, which has since administered them.

The Enfants Sourds du Cambodge association has been helping since 2001, because even though things are getting better, hearing loss is not a priority in relation to the major tasks facing Cambodia. ENT specialists are few in number, audio prostheses and speech educators are almost non-existent.

Each year, ESC runs two 3-week campaigns. It is a matter of establishing a balance for each child, of adapting and controlling his equipment, of replacing it if necessary. Five schools, spread across the country, more than 500 children to watch in three weeks, I now understand that there is no time to lose.

I’m even a little confused about disturbing Christine, the audiologist’s work. who takes care of Thyna fifteen years. The hearing loss for this young girl is deep, it even reaches 90% to the left. She has been pussy since 2014. She was 7 years old. Barely returning to school, she was oriented towards special education and was supported by ESC from that time. It is up to Christine to check if her devices are functional. These concentrates of technology filter acoustic signals, amplify and regulate them. But like everything else, they are prone to wear and tear, loss, deterioration.

Thanks to them, 15-year-old Thyna can hear. A little. And when she can hear, she can speak. A little. Because tracking is not performed until children get to school, precious years are lost at the age when their brains learn to distinguish sounds.

deaf children in Cambodia
Thyna, 15, has had hearing aids since she was 7 of deaf children in Cambodia

In school, we make use of what children have of hearing. We can not speak if we do not hear. They are also taught sign language and also to distinguish everyday sounds, e.g. a motorcycle arriving.

Geneviève has been there from the start. She is the starting point of the association with her husband Jean-Paul Béraha, audiophonologist, doctor Michel Bré, ENT doctor and his wife Ravy, French-Cambodian pharmacist.

She explains to me that after the war, the country had to be completely rebuilt. Among the thousands of helpless children, those with disabilities suffered an even more terrible fate. In Cambodian society, and according to Buddhist principles, disability was perceived as inevitable. The disabled child was left to fend for himself.

Fortunately, the work done by Benoît Duchâteau-Arminjon has gradually made it possible to change the way these children are viewed.

Geneviève explains to me that the ultimate goal of the ESC is that Cambodians can take care of themselves.

The NGO’s current project is to establish diploma training courses for audio prostheses in the country. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education in the Kingdom, ESC and the Faculty of Medicine in Montpellier are already working on it with the support of Amplifon *.

The NGO is currently offering training to audiovisual technicians, including Sopheak and Sunhieng, who have become coaches themselves. Similarly, for several years now, specialized teachers have been receiving sound phonology instruction within the framework of the National Institute for Specialized Education.

deaf children in Cambodia
Sopheak and Sunhieng audiovisual technicians trained by the NGO and who have again become coaches

Meanwhile, the volunteers are busy around the children. Everyone takes full responsibility for their own journey. For each mission, the NGO needs 500 prostheses and 10,000 batteries.

I will let the 14 members of this 38th mission finish their work, tomorrow they will be in Kampong Cham to bring the sound dimension to children who have been deprived of it.

* Amplifon is an international audiology group that distributes hearing aids.

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