17 Sep When Ollie met Lizzy – An interview with our first volunteer OT
This last month has seen some of the greatest leaps forward that EmbraceAbility has made to date. I landed in Phnom Penh on the 21st of August to the familiar buzz of one of my favourite cities on planet Earth. I should be used to making this trip by now, but this time it felt different. I was emboldened by my purpose, I was anxious to finally see our work in action – I was excited to be coming to work!
With the arrival of Lizzy, our first volunteer occupational therapist in Phnom Penh, it was time to put our strategy into practice. After nearly 2 years of diligent research, refinement, fundraising, paperwork, late nights and early mornings, we welcomed our new team member into an established and blossoming Community Outreach Programme.
The essential precursor to all of EmbraceAbility’s future work in Phnom Penh, our Community Outreach Programme identities children with disabilities on Koh Dach Island, with volunteer therapists working with their families on essential therapies to improve quality of life. The programme is also making a start on community training workshops and mentorship. Beginning with the training of local teachers in disability care, we aim to retain more children with disabilities in classrooms with their peers. Working closely with our partner organisation, Khemara, we hope to re-introduce children with disabilities into an inclusive classroom where their needs can be met and a basic education achieved.
With only one volunteer on the ground, the team in Phnom Penh is small for now. Lizzy, our Project Coordinator, Amara, and I have been working tirelessly to make sure our services are everything they can be.
Last night, I sat down with Lizzy to discuss her experience with EmbraceAbility so far:
Hi Lizzy! Tell our readers a little about yourself.
Hi Ollie! Well I’m an Occupational Therapist from Tunbridge Wells. I work for social services when I’m home, and I’ve practicing for 5 years.
What were your first impressions of Phnom Penh?
To me, it is a beautiful city of extremes. The rich and poor live so close to one another. You’ll be walking down a street and see a huge high-rise, glass-fronted building, and not far away you will see dilapidated housing.
What is your favourite local food?
Fried banana! I love a fried banana! I haven’t branched out to fried tarantula or crickets just yet, but there’s plenty of time to try the local delicacies!
What is your favourite Khmer word?
(Long pause…) Oh dear. I’m not a linguist. My favourite word so far is ‘suasdey!’ This means hello in Khmer.
How important is it to raise the profile of disability care and Occupational Therapy in Cambodia?
It’s extremely important. This is an issue that has gone below the radar for too long. The importance of tailored therapy, from a range of disciplines, is crucial to improving quality of life and facilitating the inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
How do you feel your skills translate to the EmbraceAbility model of sustainability?
I am very passionate about equipping families with the skills to meet a child’s needs and support a child to develop without being so heavily reliant on therapists all the time. There’s often a concern, here and at home, that therapy will only be completed if somebody visits every week or everyday. The worry is that families won’t work on developing a child’s skills without the supervision of a therapist and the effects will be short-term and unsustainable. What I hope to do is encourage, negotiate, and explain to families ways in which therapy can be done with family at its heart. This will allow them to make the changes necessary to enhance the life of a child with disabilities and family life as a whole in the long-term. This is the EmbraceAbility model, and this is my model.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
There are times where I have felt a bit out of my depth with my skill-set and my knowledge. But I feel this is important. We should all be honest about our limitations. When I need help, I seek out those that can help me in Phnom Penh’s rehabilitation and NGO community. Everyone has been very friendly so far!
Funny you said that! My next question was – What has been your experience of the development community in Phnom Penh?
There’s so much good work being done! We went to a very well attended Conference for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Rehabilitation on Wednesday last week. There are skills, time and resources being applied to issues of disability which is great to see. But everybody needs to keep sustainability at the heart of their efforts. All services must be tailored to empowering local services. International NGOs need to help local services to develop the skills and resources necessary to continue effective work after their departure.
What is your main goal for the coming months?
A huge goal for me is to be able to support children into education and for the teachers to feel that they can meet the needs of the children. Often disabilities can appear intimidating to a teacher or carer who is not educated on the condition or trained in the appropriate skills. I want to help teachers to feel comfortable and break down those barriers. I have met so many children who are very motivated to go to school and frustrated that they can’t. The classroom is an important place for us to demonstrate inclusivity.
That’s all for now Lizzy! It’s a pleasure having you here and thank you for all your hard work so far.
Keep an eye on our social media to follow the rest of Lizzy’s journey with EmbraceAbility.
By Oliver King, Director of Advocacy