When Ollie met Shantella - An Interview - EmbraceAbility
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When Ollie met Shantella – An Interview

When Ollie met Shantella – An Interview

Last week, I sat down with Shantella at our office in Phnom Penh to find out about her experience volunteering with EmbraceAbility. It is with huge sadness that we said goodbye to Shantella as she came to the end of her volunteer period with us. With her huge, trademark smile, she told me all about it.

Hi Shantella! Tell our readers a little about yourself.

Hey Ollie! I’m a social work assistant with over 5 years experience working with both children and adults for social services back home in the UK.

What were your first impressions of Phnom Penh?

My first impression was that Phnom Penh is BUSY! And very very hot! For me, the differences in wealth across the city was a bit of a shock. You’ll see people driving Porshes or Range Rovers, and then see houses that are falling apart, and then meet children that have never attended school.

What is your favourite local food?

My favourite food so far has been the beef Lok Lak as there are so many flavours within it. I did a local cookery course here which was so much fun! The food markets are also very interesting as you see so many new foods that you’ve probably never seen before.

What is your favourite Khmer word?

‘Orkun’ – meaning ‘thank you’ – as its the only one I’m confident with! I’ve slowly got the hang of counting 1-10 in Khmer but I still need a lot of practice. New languages are definitely not my fortĂ©!

How important is it to raise the profile of social work and disability care in Cambodia?

It’s extremely important to raise the profile of social work in Cambodia. For a long time, social work was unheard of here. It’s so important to raise awareness and identify social within  society, and work to positively impact communities and families here in Cambodia; supporting people to find positive ways to increase community empowerment and make lasting change.

How do you feel your skills translate to the EmbraceAbility model of sustainability?

I’m a believer that individuals should be taught and worked with to be confident in their ability to manage without the need for regular involvement from professionals. Families within the community should be educated to better understand their child’s disability. As a result, families will be more willing to commit to therapy plans, provisions, and use of equipment because they understand the long term benefits. This makes for more sustainable change, which directly links to the EmbraceAbility model of sustainability.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

My biggest challenge so far has been ensuring that I’m doing all that I can as far as remit allows. Working in a completely different country with very different options available is not easy. However, EmbraceAbility has started to make some some extremely valuable professional links and sharing knowledge and experience has been greatly beneficial.

What has been your experience of the development community in Phnom Penh?

There’s some great work being done out here! The awareness of disability does seem to be increasing. Feedback also seems to be that communities are eager to learn more about disabilities, and how best to support people to be more independent and how to better integrate them into the community.

Did you achieve all you wanted to during your time in Cambodia?

I feel that I’ve achieved a lot of what I had in mind prior to coming out to Cambodia, but while being out here I’ve learned so much more! About therapy, social issues, and I’ve learned a lot about myself. Working in a different setting has taught me so much and tested my skills. I just wish I had longer here to help the amazing work that’s being completed here by EmbraceAbility. Now that my time here is nearly finished I have so much to reflect on, but I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity!

I can’t believe we have to lose you so soon! Thank you for all your hard work you’ll be missed by all of us here in Phnom Penh!

I’m very sad to be leaving! See you in the UK!


By Oliver King, Director of Advocacy