Monday, March 1, 2004

"Helping the disabled help themselves"

Angkor Association for the Disabled

Everywhere you walk around Siem Reap you are approached by disabled beggars asking for small change. These people are not begging because they want to. They are victims of war, victims of landmines, victims of poverty and victims of discrimination against the disabled. They face difficulties such as malnutrition, starvation and disease. They often have no choice but to beg and sleep on the streets in order to survive.

Sem Sovantha was one of these beggars. He is a disabled veteran who lost both his legs to a landmine. His government pension of 50 cents a day was not enough to live on. He didn't have skills necessary for employment, so he was forced into begging. It was a very hard life, but he didn't lose hope. Through amazing determination, he put himself through school, and then found a job with a NGO helping other disabled people in Cambodia. In 2002, the NGO ran out of funding and closed it's doors. Once again, Sovantha didn't lose hope. Instead, he began helping the disabled of Cambodia on his own. Sem Sovantha knows what it is like to live on the streets and how hard it is to escape from poverty and begging. It is with this in mind that he founded the Angkor Association for the Disabled (AAD). In February 2004, AAD was registered as a NGO in Cambodia.

Sem Sovantha is a very rare exception. The majority of disabled beggars get trapped in a life of begging. They lose hope. Begging strips away their dignity. They fall into a state of despair. They have goals, but struggle to move towards them without outside assistance. It is hard to think long term when all day, every day, is spent begging for daily rice. AAD works to break them out of this cycle. The mission is to give these people the hope and the help they need so that they can change their lives.

You see projects of AAD around town. Carts (labeled with the AAD logo and signs "I don't beg - I want to work") are selling postcards, books and souvenirs. Each purchase from these carts goes directly towards keeping the cart owner out of a life of begging. Nightly, near the old market, there are performances of traditional Khmer music by AAD musicians. Every donation goes directly towards feeding the musicians and their families.

AAD also does a lot of work behind the scenes. While new AAD members are transitioning between living in the streets and living in a house of their own, Sovantha provides them with a place to stay. Currently, there are 7 families (31 people in total) living in his rented house. AAD, with Sovantha at the helm, also fights discrimination, working hard to get it's members jobs in hotels and restaurants.

AAD is a grass roots organization, with the goal of helping as many disabled people around Siem Reap as possible. AAD is currently assisting <#> disabled people. There are a number of projects in planning and in progress towards the goal of helping more.

* Sovantha's house is full! Permanent accommodations are needed for the current members. And new accommodations will greatly aid AAD in helping other disabled start new lives.

* AAD is looking to provide additional jobs for the disabled by building more sales carts. Disabled people with no arms or no legs can still earn a living, selling books.

* Sovantha continues to interview disabled beggars to see what their goals are, and how AAD can best help them achieve those goals.

* New training programs are being planned which will provide marketable skills. Crafts training, painting, weaving, and carving will lead to products that can be sold through the carts. This will provide income for the disabled that make the souvenirs and those who sell them. Other skills, such as television repair and motorbike repair, will lead to real jobs and positive future.

* AAD is working with the Siem Reap government and potential sponsors to hire the disabled to clean the streets. This would serve the dual purposes of creating good, stable jobs for the disabled and making Siem Reap more beautiful.

How you can help

Please solicit the AAD sales carts. Attend a performance and listen to traditional Khmer music. Spread the word about the good work that AAD is doing in Siem Reap. If your guesthouse doesn't yet have an AAD poster, ask for one.

Donations are also critical to keep AAD running. The goal is self-sufficiency for the members, but funds are needed to help new members. A single donation would help, but what AAD needs is ongoing contributors. After the tourist high-season, the tourists disappear as do the donations. It becomes much harder to live in Siem Reap, and even a small ongoing donation can feed an entire family. Your donation can be targeted at helping a group of disabled learn new trades, or at helping one disabled person and his family begin a new life. AAD is a registered NGO and all donations should be tax deductible.

We're also looking for volunteers. Your work will have immediate impact - changing people's lives, helping them make a transition away from begging, and working to ensure they don't go hungry. Volunteering with AAD you can create your own job description. We ask for a minimum of one month, but the hours are very flexible. It is possible to split your time between helping AAD and helping other organizations (or individuals) around Siam Reap. The help that AAD needs includes teaching English to the disabled and their families, helping with advertising and sales, writing proposals for funding and food, or as a business advisor to the disabled as they start new lives.

"Helping the disabled help themselves"

Angkor Association for the Disabled
No. 115, Group 4, Salakamreok Commune
Siem Reap District, Siem Reap Province
tel: (855) 12 690 934

To make direct donations to AAD use the following account number:

Union Commerical Bank PLC, Cambodia
Angkor Association for the Disabled
Acct. #: 102-226-000206-5


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