Thursday, July 2, 2015

Empowering young people with disabilities in Cambodia to be heard

From the UNICEF blog:

The nineteen faces in the room showed a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Many of these young people were about to do something for the very first time: operate a video camera. “This is a totally new experience for me, I’ve never held a video camera before!” 21-year-old Saron told me eagerly.

It was the first day of the One Minutes Jr. workshop organized by UNICEF in Kampot, southern Cambodia and I was there to capture stories from this special event. Over the following week these young people would learn how to tell their stories by producing a storyboard, directing a film and capturing all the action on camera.

One Minutes Jr. is a film-making workshop, but it is about a lot more than making films. The participants here were all students from UNICEF Cambodia’s partner Epic Arts, an inclusive arts organization supporting children and young people with disabilities. They received guidance throughout from expert trainers from the One Minutes Foundation. The workshop provided an opportunity for the participants to learn new skills, support each other as members of a team and to tell a powerful story about something important in their lives.

Every student wrote, directed and filmed their own short movie, each exactly one minute long. These films will now be available for viewing across Cambodia – and the world – giving a voice to young people with disabilities.

People with disabilities are often among the poorest and most socially excluded in Cambodia. Access to education is often a struggle – only 56 per cent of adults with disabilities can read and write, compared to 80 per cent of the total population. Health care providers often have inadequate skills to support people with disabilities and care can be extremely expensive. Families affected by disability in Cambodia are twice as likely to suffer extreme poverty due to health care costs.

A person does not have a disability because they find it difficult to see, walk or hear. Disability occurs when physical, social and legal barriers prevent someone with impairments from taking part in community life on an equal basis. Watch the powerful and poignant films created by the young people during One Minutes Jr. and you will be left in no doubt about the extraordinary array of talent on show. UNICEF hopes that these films will challenge the viewer to see ability, not disability.

“Children and families living with disability have equal rights and equal potential to participate in all aspects of daily life,” says Tomas Jensen, Chief of Local Governance for Child Rights at UNICEF Cambodia, who has led the organization of this initiative. “This workshop has provided an opportunity for young people with disabilities to demonstrate that they are fully up to the task of being included and contributing as active citizens to the socio-economic development of Cambodia.”

UNICEF promotes and protect the rights of children and adults with disabilities in Cambodia and is developing the capacity of local decision makers to make governance and community development disability-inclusive. UNICEF also supports disability-focused NGOs, like Epic Arts, to provide services for people with disabilities.

On the final day of the workshop, every young person’s film was shown on the big screen during a special event at the Epic Arts centre. It was a nerve-wracking yet exciting moment for the young film makers. 22-year-old Sokna, who is deaf, created a film showing that making connections with people is not just about talking.

“I was very scared to see my film on the screen. But when I watched it I had shivers and was very happy. Such a big audience got to see my film!” Sokna communicates using Cambodian Sign Language (CSL), but the vast majority of the 51,000 deaf people in Cambodia have never had the opportunity to learn CSL. An estimated 98 per cent of deaf people are without sign, written or spoken language.

 It is clear that there is a long way to go before every child born in Cambodia has a fair start in life. However initiatives like One Minutes Jr. are empowering young people with disabilities to be heard and to show their capabilities – a vital step on the road to ensuring that every person in Cambodia is valued and supported to reach their full potential.