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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.

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, and also provide physical rehabilitation services and produce and fit prosthetic limbs and orthoses. Our projects also focus on tackling barriers to inclusion and activities to prevent the development of disabling impairments.

In 1982, Handicap International’s story began with a commitment made by a group of French doctors to help disabled Cambodian refugees living in the vast Khao I Dang camp across the border in 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. As the organisation grew, so did its fight against these weapons, a fight which led to the creation 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 along with them to ensure that people could access the services they needed. In 1993 our demining and mine risk education activities in Cambodia began.

Key facts

Few countries are as contaminated by landmines and other explosive weapons as Cambodia. Mines were laid by the Khmer Rouge regime, other armed groups and subsequent governments, and 26 million submunitions were dropped over Cambodia during the Vietnam war. 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 in 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 in recent years.

• Human Development Index: 139th out of 187
• Life expectancy: 63 years
• Population: 15.1 million
Source: UNDP HDR 2011

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

Landmines and cluster munitions

Mine clearance

Goal: To reduce the number of people killed and injured by landmines and other explosive weapons, and to return land back to communities. Handicap International has five demining teams currently working to identify and safely remove landmines and other explosive weapons. Since 1993 Handicap International and the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, of which we are a founding member, have cleared over 330 square kilometres of land, representing two thirds of all the land that has been cleared. As part of our demining activities we have safely destroyed over 3 million landmines and explosive weapons.
Beneficiaries: Communities affected by the presence of mines and unexploded weapons.

Landmines and cluster munitions

Mine and explosive weapons risk education

Goal: To reduce the threat of landmines and cluster munitions by providing education about the risks. These activities promote awareness about how to keep safe, what to do when encountering a deadly weapons and how to alert local authorities. Since 2008, 180,000 people have attended a risk education session.
Beneficiaries: Communities affected by the presence of mines and unexploded weapons

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Physical rehabilitation

Goal: To provide quality rehabilitation services to people with physical impairments by building the capacity of rehabilitation centres. We are helping to improve access to physiotherapy services as well as orthopaedic-fitting and prosthetic limbs. Between 2002 and 2010, we supported rehabilitation centres in in Takeo, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham. This work has now 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.
Beneficiaries: More than 7,500 patients visit these centres each year.

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Happy Child project - Identifying and preventing the development of disabling impairments in young children.

Goal: To increase the early detection and diagnosis of disabling impairments in infants and young children. Project activities include awareness raising and training for different audiences. The project's teams in Siem Reap and Takeo run training sessions for teachers and others working with children aged between two and eight years old. This training focuses on identifying children that may have undiagnosed impairments. In communities, awareness sessions aim to increase knowledge of illnesses that can cause impairments and provide information on how to spot symptoms and the importance of referring children to health services.
Beneficiaries: Children with disabilities and their families.

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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 and the Ministry of the Interior to help implement a national road safety action plan. So far, legislation requiring all motor bike passengers to wear a helmet has been implemented. 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 of Cambodia.

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HIV and AIDS prevention

Goal: To decrease the HIV and AIDS prevalence rate amongst people with disabilities by providing inclusive prevention activities. Project staff run awareness sessions targeted at people with visual or hearing impairments, refer the victims of sexual violence to available social and legal service,; and create and distribute information resources on HIV and AIDS prevention to people with disabilities.
Beneficiaries: Over 1,700 people have attended awareness raising sessions.

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Provision of access to livelihood and income generating activities for 1520 women and men with disabilities and their carers in rural Cambodia

Goal: To alleviate poverty among vulnerable groups in Cambodia by improving access to vocational training and supporting disabled people to establish their own small businesses.
Beneficiaries: 1,520 people with disabilities, including landmine survivors, benefit from improved access to livelihoods schemes and income generation activities in Battambang and Kampong Cham provinces

This project is supported by the UK Department for International Development. Click here to access the project documentation.

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Inclusive education

Goal: To help include children with disabilities in primary schools in three districts of Battambang province. To make schools accessible and the classroom environment more inclusive, head teachers, teachers and administrative staff have received training in how to meaningfully include disabled children in their schools. Awareness sessions also take place in communities to increase understanding about the right to education for all children. Facilities at eight schools have been adapted to make them more accessible.
Beneficiaries: 220 disabled children and their families, 200 teachers as well as the wider community. In 2011 alone, 12,000 people took part in community awareness events.

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Proactive citizenship

Goal: To promote the engagement of people with disabilities in elections and the participation of people with disabilities as leaders in their communities. Civic education workshops are organised to promote participation and encourage voting. 80% of people with disabilities who have taken part in these citizenship education workshops are registered to vote, compared with 49% of people who have not.
Beneficiaries: People with disabilities and the wider community.

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Amplifying the voices of people with disabilities

Goal: To strengthen autonomous disabled people's organisations to promote disability issues and to establish and support disabled people's self-help groups. Disabled people's organisations and disabled people's self-help groups advocate at a local and national level about the needs and contributions of people with disabilities and also organise projects to encourage community inclusion.
Beneficiaries: Disabled people's organisations including the Cambodia Disabled Persons Organisation and more than 60 disabled people's self-help groups.

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