According to a 2013 UNICEF report, children with disabilities are significantly less likely to complete their education than their peers - a situation that directly correlates to ongoing unemployment, endemic poverty and poor health. In Cambodia, Salesian missionaries are working to ensure that all students, regardless of physical ability, can access the basic education required to open the doors to a better life.
Don Bosco Kep, a Salesian-run vocational center established in 2011, specializes in technical education for impoverished youth from rural communities in Kep, Kompot and Takaew. Here, students can pursue coursework in fields such as social communication and journalism, housekeeping, tailoring, electricity, information technology, agriculture, culinary studies, hospitality, and more.
“We know that youth living in poverty are challenged to access educational opportunities that provide the skills necessary to lead stable, productive lives,” says Fr. Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “For impoverished youth with disabilities, these challenges are particularly acute: Inadequate infrastructure, improperly trained educators, and other factors conspire against these boys and girls - erecting physical and social barriers to educational inclusion.”
Salesian missionaries and dedicated staff at Don Bosco Kep are committed to changing that.
In 2013, the center opened its doors to physically disabled youth like Ang - a student enrolled in several of the Salesian programs. Having been struck by polio at a young age, Ang relies on a wheelchair and three-wheeled motor bike to get around campus as well as to and from classes. However, because some of his classrooms are on the second floor, and male students live on the third floor, Ang also depends on assistance from his classmates to navigate the stairs. Often, this leaves him feeling like a burden to his friends.
With the appropriate funding - which Salesian missionaries are now pursuing - Ang will soon find it much easier to move about campus under his own power. Specific modifications, including the installation of elevators and ramps, and the construction of accessible students’ and teachers’ lounges, will allow those with physical disabilities to live and attend school completely independently.
Inspiringly, Don Bosco Kep is a model for ensuring that all students have opportunities to lead fulfilling lives, and to contribute to the social, cultural and economic vitality of their communities.
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