NGO that invented Cambodian braille celebrates 25 years

By: Southeast Asia Globe - Posted on: February 19, 2016 | Cambodia

Krousar Thmey is one of the Kingdom’s oldest NGOs. In its time it has helped more than 20,000 children access education and integrate into society

Since 1994, Krousar Thmey has been supporting underprivileged children in Cambodia, establishing pioneering schools for deaf and blind students and housing street children in temporary protection centres.

With an annual budget of just $1.7 million – tiny compared to many international NGOs – the organisation has assisted 20,000 children over the past 25 years. In addition to having pioneered both Khmer sign language and braille, Krousar Thmey has seen a number of their students go on to graduate from university, with the first blind student obtaining a university degree in 2010 and the country’s first deaf university graduate in 2014.

In January 2015, Krousar Thmey was ranked among the world’s top 100 NGOs by Geneva Global, and has won several awards including the Stars Foundation’s Impact Award in 2013 and Unesco’s Wenhui Award for Educational Innovation in 2010.

As Krousar Thmey celebrates a quarter century of service, Southeast Asia Globe sits down with Seoun Sreyneth, a former Krousar Thmey student who became a teacher with the NGO in 2007, who says that the organisation has given her “everything”.

****

How did the people in the village treat you when you were growing up?

Most people looked down on me when I became blind, and most of the people called me ‘No Eyes’. And some people asked, “how can you live?”

How did you get an education?

There was no school for me, so I just stayed at home. One day a man from [an NGO] came to develop the village that I lived in. And the villagers said: “We have one blind child, but she cannot go to school”. The man said that he knew one school, Krousar Thmey in Phnom Penh, that educates blind people.

How did you feel when you first went to school at age ten and realised you could learn?

I feel very great, very happy, because previously I was hopeless. So now it meant that my dream had come true because I really wanted to study. I had a chance to study as well.

It must’ve been quite difficult because you had to learn many things in a short period of time.

I had some problems, especially homesickness. I missed parents very much, but I tried to persuade myself that I had to do everything to get an education, so this calmed me down.

After you finished high school you became a teacher at Krousar Thmey. What do you like about teaching?

Because I am blind but I learned that I can do everything the same as a normal student, and so I want share my experience, share my knowledge, with the next generation of blind people.

What does the organisation Krousar Thmey mean to you?

Krousar Thmey changed my life. Before, I didn’t have money. In the past, I was illiterate and now I have a job as a teacher; I have family, children. Everything I have, Krousar Thmey provided me.

Krousar Thmey is going to become part of the Ministry of Education. So you are going to be a civil servant, a state teacher. What do you think about that?

If the ministry thinks more about the blind people, like Krousar Thmey does, it will better. But if the ministry think less about the blind people, they will have fewer chances. That’s my worry.

Keep reading:

“In the refugee camp, art was just a fun children’s game” – A firm believer in the emancipating power of art, Cambodian artist Srey Bandaul co-founded Phare Ponleu Selpak, an art school that aims to offer disadvantaged youth a way out of poverty