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Handicap International in Cambodia: Over 30 years of action

A woman with a double lower limb amputation siitting outside her house sifting rice, Cambodia
© P.Biro/Handicap International Belgium

Handicap International’s goal in Cambodia is to support a better future for people with disabilities and to take action to prevent the causes of disability along with improving access to quality health and rehabilitation services and promoting socio economic empowerment.

Injuries from explosions caused by landmines and other explosive weapons as well as road traffic accidents are a leading cause of disability in Cambodia. We work to make land safe from weapons of war and promote road safety but also provide physical rehabilitation services; produce and fit prosthetic limbs and orthoses. Our activities in Cambodia support programmes to prevent the development of disabling impairments in young children; promote HIV/AIDS prevention programmes that are accessible to people with disabilities and work to develop activities to support the inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of public life.

In 1982 Handicap International’s story began in a commitment made by a group of French doctors to help disabled Cambodian refugees living in the vast Khao I Dang refugee camp across the border in northern Thailand. With no other support available these doctors began fitting prosthetic limbs and orthoses for those in need. Most of the amputees living in the camp were victims of landmines and as the organisation grew so did the fight against these weapons, a fight which, led to the founding of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and eventually the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty.

As our work in the camps continued, rehabilitation services were developed for all those in need and when people began returning to Cambodia in 1991, we went with them to ensure that people could access the services they needed. In 1993 our demining and mine risk education activities began. These activities continue today, but our current projects cover a much wider area and also focus on tackling barriers to inclusion and activities to prevent the development of disabling impairments.

Key facts

Mines planted by the Khmer Rouge regime, other armed groups and subsequent governments as well as 26 million cluster munitions dropped over Cambodia during the Vietnam war has left Cambodia as one of the most contaminated countries in the world. In 2010 it was estimated that at least 715 square kilometres of land was still mined and there were approximately 5.8 million unexploded weapons contaminating ground. At the Kampong Cham rehabilitation centre, which is supported by Handicap International one on five of the patients seen in 2011 were the victims of landmines or other explosive weapons. Road traffic accidents are also a major cause of disability and the number of accidents has risen by 10% in recent years. About 8.1% of Cambodia's population is disabled, mostly because of landmine or unexploded ordnance and road accidents, or as a consequence of birth or illness. People with disabilities, particularly children, suffer from a wide range of problems and form one of the most vulnerable groups in Cambodian society. However, as the government financial resources remain scarce assisting people with disabilities is not always perceived as a priority. The lack of a well-functioning and well-funded public health care system means that international organizations remain primarily responsible for the disability & rehabilitation sectors.

• Human Development Index: 136th out of 187
• Life expectancy: 71.9 years
• Population: 15.14 million
Source: UNDP HDR 2014

Cambodia child health
Disability and the power of play in Cambodia
Cambodia, January 2013. Edward Winter, Director of Institutional Funding at Handicap International U.S., is currently in Cambodia where he has been visiting a unique project for children with disabilities.
Mom, Cambodia
Film: Mom's story
Cambodia, August 2009. The country is still suffering from three decades of war that left it heavily contaminated by landmines and unexploded weapons. Mom, now 22 years old, was terribly injured as a young girl when she stood on a landmine whilst feeding the family's pigs. The explosion tore off her right leg.
Kanha, Cambodia
Kanha's road to recovery
Cambodia, February 2008. Kanha’s story encapsulates the trauma experienced by each person injured or killed by a landmine or a cluster munition. She is unlikely to ever fully understand or accept the tragedy that befell her. Her happy, carefree existence was torn away in a split second of sickening violence. The little girl’s life can never be the same again.

Our projects

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Mother and child health

Goal: To improve access and quality of preventive and therapeutic care for children (0-6 years) with disability or at high risk through the strengthening of community-level health systems and local partners.
Beneficiaries: Pregnant women; Children with disabilities and children at risk of developing disabling impairments; their families; local health service providers; local partners and government departments.

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Road safety

Goal: To reduce the number of people injured or killed in road accidents by increasing awareness of road safety and working with the government to influence better road safety legislation. We are supporting the National Road Safety Committee, Provincial Road Safety Committees and the Ministry of the Interior to help implement a national road safety action plan, which has so far influenced legislation requiring all motor bike passengers to wear a helmet. We are also working in schools, particularly with teenagers to highlight the dangers of drink-driving, riding without a helmet and speeding.
Beneficiaries: The wider population; National and provincial road safety committees; Road safety support groups in universities and communities, international and local NGOs involved in road safety activities

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Supporting provincial physical rehabilitation centres

Goal: To provide quality rehabilitation services to people with physical impairments living in Kampong Cham by building the capacity of local rehabilitation centres. We are helping to improve access to physiotherapy services as well as orthopaedic-fitting and prosthetic limbs particularly for people living in rural areas. Between 2002 and 2010, we supported rehabilitation centres in in Takeo, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham. These projects have been transferred to the Ministry for Social Affairs. Each year the centre in Kampong Reap sees around 2,500 patients (50% are children), produces over 300 prostheses, 500 orthoses and runs around 10,000 rehabilitation services. More than 7,500 patients visit these centres each year.
Beneficiaries: Rehabilitation staff and people with disabilities receiving rehabilitation care.

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Livelihood project

Goal: To contribute to sustainable reduction in poverty and social exclusion and to improve quality of life among people with disabilities and other disadvantage households
Beneficiaries: 1720 vulnerable people, 80% of whom are disabled people and their family members; 21 service providers; 18 local authorities; Local disabled people organisations.

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