“I never thought I'd be able to participate as fully as I have”
Khe Ouk, 25, from Cambodia’s Battambang province, was born without fully formed limbs. As a volunteer, this determined law graduate is inspiring fellow young Cambodians to set their aspirations higher and aim for better careers and futures – no matter what barriers they face.
As a disabled person in Cambodia, Ouk faces discrimination that keeps him out of mainstream jobs.
On VSO's International Citizen Service (ICS) youth volunteering programme, Ouk is working with secondary schools, helping young people develop CV-writing and employment skills. He's hoping that his placement will inspire them to persevere and aim for better jobs and futures.
I was born with this disability. It’s okay for me because I can still do things like writing.
Sometimes small children in the community are curious about my disability. They don’t ask me questions – they just talk amongst themselves.
Before applying to ICS, I expected that I would face additional barriers in terms of language because my English is limited. I never thought that I would be able to participate as fully as I have.
My main difficulty is that I can’t travel by myself. I have to ride a bike with my volunteer counterpart from the UK, Danielle, or other volunteers.
Before ICS I earned a Bachelor’s degree in law, at the University of Management and Economics in Battambang. I was also teaching and Danielle is a teacher as well.
ICS is a good opportunity for me to work within a cross-cultural environment. It’s my first time working with foreigners and, at the same time, I get to work directly in the community.
I’m in a group of four volunteers – two Khmer and two British – working with the student councils in Sambo High School and Veal Kchong secondary school.
We teach the students how to write CVs and support them with peer-education so that they can share what they are learning with other students. We work on both the planning and delivery of these workshops.
When the students finish high school they’ll have all the tools to be able to find a job. We also have a separate project to raise awareness in the community of proper waste management.
After my ICS placement, I will look for a job. I’m interested in working for a development organisation. My concern, and that of other disabled people I know, relates mainly to employment.
Some disabled people are negative and give up their education because they think, 'if it’s hard for people to get jobs ordinarily, what chance do we stand'?
I used to think that way too, but I changed my mind and pursued my education at university.
VSO ICS volunteer, Battambang, Cambodia
There’s still discrimination. I think there’s a huge gap between disabled people and the rest of the public. There are still challenges for us.
The government needs to pay more attention to disabled people. Employers are often not willing to employ people who are disabled – they should give more opportunities so we can work. Schools should be more disabled-friendly, so that people with wheelchairs can access the building.
So yes, we need equal opportunities. But at the same time, disabled people need to better themselves and learn not to give up.
ICS is a volunteering opportunity for 18 to 25-year-olds, funded by the UK government and led by VSO. It gives young people the chance to work side-by-side with local volunteers to make a meaningful contribution to fighting poverty.