Helping Girls in Cambodia
In rural Cambodia, traditional norms often value women less than men. Young girls finish school far less often than boys as they are often pressured to drop out to help at home. In fact, some studies estimate that over 50% of the women in rural villages are illiterate, with little chance of ever breaking the cycle of poverty in which they live.
Another harsh reality of this region is that gender-based violence against women is common. Sadly, many women who have been interviewed by researchers have such low self-esteem that they don’t question the abuse.
Basically, if you’re a girl growing up in rural Cambodia, you already have lots of odds stacked against you. If you are a girl with an obvious disability, you have even more to overcome in order to reach adulthood with a good education and the high self-confidence needed to reach for your dreams.
Since beginning our work in Cambodia last fall, we’ve become acquainted with three girls who have visual special needs who deserve medical treatment. Just like we have seen with our work in China, children with medical needs which are outwardly apparent often face enormous stigmas and discrimination.
Cassidy has lived 17 years without her left eye. In her community, there are long-held cultural stigmas regarding visual physical differences, and her life has been difficult as many people in her community won’t go near her.
Sara is also 17 years old and was also born without her left eye. Last fall, we took her to a larger hospital in Cambodia where she was fitted with a prosthetic eye. Sara’s left eye socket is smaller than normal, and so the prosthetic was smaller than her other eye because of it. Sara has experienced some fit issues with this current prosthetic eye that we are hoping to address as we work to make sure she has the appearance she desires.
A hospital in Thailand is going to attempt to surgically enlarge Sara’s eye socket so she can have a normal-size prosthetic eye. This would make Sara’s eye look normal and would remove the cultural stigma she has been living with all of her life.
Just a few days ago we learned about Mona, a 12-year-old girl who cannot see out of her left eye. We would like to have Mona evaluated to see how we might be able to give her the self-confidence in herself she currently is lacking.
We hope that by improving these girls’ physical appearance that they will face fewer negative attitudes in their communities and be able to live the best lives possible. Changing cultural attitudes is a slow process, but we have seen major changes in attitudes towards children born with cleft in China, so we feel hopeful that it is possible in Cambodia as well.
In the meantime, we will be learning all we can about how we can help children in Cambodia affected by toxins in their environment.