It is hard to find good places where they serve children with disabilities in the area we are working in Siem Reap. If their parents send them to public school it is not good for them because there are 45-50 students in one classroom and only one teacher, and the teacher doesn’t have time at all to take care of a child with special needs. At Lotus Kids’ Club we do not have a special needs teacher but we found out that there are many students with special needs in the area who really need our help.
A few years ago we received a referral for a dear boy from our partner nonprofit. He had Down syndrome. At the beginning we were so afraid for him to join our preschool program because we did not have special needs teacher or any experience working with children with mental disabilities. We feared that there were would be many challenges for our teachers and the other students. However, we still decided to enter him into our program because we have love, care, and the best interest of children, and we want him to be part of our excellent preschool play-based curriculum. We are here for every child no matter what and no matter how hard. We know he has few options in town and needs our help.
After getting him to our program, with us being new to him and him being new to our teachers, we did have a hard time and we found many challenges from our teachers when we conducted our monthly supervision. But after spending two years in our program he had improved a lot. His behavior, vocabulary and routine are the same as our other students. He really enjoyed coming to school with big smile to his teacher, saluted goodbye at the end of each day to teachers and loved playing the piano. We bought a secondhand piano for him to play with the other children.
In his third year with us, we realized that he was growing up and his behavior was getting more difficult to control. Our teachers did not have experience working with special needs children so had a hard time with him. We searched and found another NGO that is very close to his house and referred his family to their organization. We really did not want him to go; even though it was challenging we loved him being in our classroom. But we knew it was good for him, and this NGO had teachers with experience with working with children with disabilities.We made the right decision for him to go because when we did the follow-up we found out that he is doing well at school and he is improving a lot.
There are still many children in the community with special needs who cannot find a school to go to. We currently have three special needs students enrolled in our preschool program. This time we have more experience working with these children. Both experienced western and local teachers have been coming to train our teachers regularly in how to work with children with special needs.
We see the smiles and the hope in their parents’ eyes, which motivates us to work harder for their children. We are now moving and growing forward to be able to provide education and support for all children, disabled and not. We do believe that this is the first class for special needs students with experience and beautiful hearts they have put for full of love and warmth. We do believe that we are doing a very great thing for those children, and we always remind ourselves – “We are here for them,” “We are here for this community,” “If we do not do it, who will do it?” and “If we do not do it now, then when?”
Written by: Rachana Chab, LKC Program Director