The Special Camp is the term used to design the camp that cares for mentally and physically disabled children. The Special children are particularly unique because they have survived in extremely difficult environments and nevertheless, have kept their smiles… This year, there are 45 children in the Special camp, divided into two groups adapted to their conditions, and they are cared for by ten European monitors, six Khmer monitors, and three coordinators. The team also has the priceless collaboration of the specialised PSE personnel who cares for them all year round.
Ly Sophea works in the “Classe Spéciale” throughout the year, and collaborates with Maria and Joaquin, the two European coordinators of the summer camp, to organise the many trips they bring the children on, and the logistics needed for the camp. “I think the Summer Camps are a wonderful opportunity for the children, to play, relax, and discover new sensations and experiences. I can see how happy they are. The staff are also very thankful because they have a chance to take a holiday. During the year the children have a mix of learning and relaxation: they play games, do some sport, have Khmer, mathematics, and general knowledge classes… We bring the older ones on trips to the market to show them how to pay and teach them every-day life skills. On Tuesdays the 15 to 17-year-old group go to the ACH (Action Cambodge Handicap) for orientation meetings and professional training to form them to get a job. After the age of 18, they are transferred to the ACH to live and work there.” Sophea is a physiotherapist, and followed a training course to rehabilitate handicapped children. Dr Sarath, the health director at PSE, asked her to open the “Classe Spéciale” to welcome children with disabilities. “I had to put everything in place, find the staff, train them… In Cambodia there is no training to be a special educator, and I had to do a specialised formation to learn new techniques and then teach them to my staff.” With regards to finding the children, the Social Service team of PSE visits the poorest villages around Phnom Penh and when they meet a disabled child, they discuss with Sophea what help could be given to the child, and whether he should stay with his family or be put into a foster home.
Pork Sokum, another veteran of the “Classe Spéciale”, working with the children since 1997, believes that “before the summer camps, things were different, and the children never fully relaxed. With the team of monitors who organise the camp, it’s a lot easier to organise trips and new experiences for the children.” She says that “everything we do comes from the heart”.
Joaquin, one of the Special Camp coordinators, has worked at the camp every summer for five years, and believes everyone is capable of working with the handicapped children. “You don’t need particular skills to interact with them: all you need is will and common sense”.
Keo Soknov is a Khmer monitor working in the Special Camp for the first time, and a veteran of the Summer Camps, having attended them as a child and worked for the last two years as a monitor. She volunteered with the special children for one day last year, and found it very difficult to see how hard their daily life is: they need help with eating, showering, dressing… “I wanted to be a monitor in the special camp because it is a challenge for me. Some people in PSE are scared of handicapped children, because they are different. My instinct was to help them, because they are the ones who need help the most. I wanted to play with them, speak to them, understand them better. I love these children so much and I am enjoying the camp so much. It is an incredible learning experience for me.”
Maria, one of the coordinators of the camp, is constantly thinking of new activities for the children, rebounding on their reactions to everything. She is extremely responsive to them. All the children love her, and call out her name, to watch them as they jump into the water, or as they throw a ball into a basket, or just to give her a hug. Her younger brother is very severely handicapped, and in Spain, she takes care of him as she lives at home with her parents. It is very difficult for her as her parents don’t understand why she needs to come to Cambodia to work with disabled children, when she could be doing that in Spain. She says: “My brother has the luck of having people around him who love and care for him. The children at PSE deserve that chance too.”