“With this new leg, I can do a lot of things,” explains ten-year-old Sophea. “My favorite games are playing ball, skipping rope, or duck, duck, goose. But going to school is what matters most to me.” Sophea dreams of leaving his small village in Cambodia so he can pursue his studies and one day, become a teacher.
Born with a congenital tibial amputation of the right leg, Sophea didn’t walk until the age of three. He often had difficulty getting around, but this all changed the day Handicap International’s social worker heard about him and convinced his parents to take him to the rehabilitation center where they gave him an artificial leg.
The new leg opens up a whole range of possibilities for this alert and curious boy who is about to make his way to school. While there, for an hour or two, he forgets the problems his desperately poor family faces. His parents own a small rice field, which is not enough to support Sophea and his three brothers and sisters. So they hire out their services as day laborers at another local farm, working the land, harvesting rice, pepper, rubber, and among others. His two older brothers do the same. This work, which is irregular and poorly paid, forces them to live from hand-to-mouth.
That’s why Sophea’s mother, Lai, looks uncertain as the young boy says he wants to carry on with his studies. “I feel good at school. I love to study and I want to become a teacher. It’s more than a dream, it’s what I really want to do. Here, school is limited. We don’t learn much. The teacher is often absent. So I want to go and study somewhere else.”
An extra pair of hands on the farm would help the family make ends meet. But Lai is really proud that her child is doing well at school. She is supportive of his plans, despite the impact this will have on her family. As Sophea grew, the plan was for him to work the farm the same as his brothers who look after the family’s small numbers of animals, and then find work to help support the family.
But Sophea’s mind is made up: he wants to study. At his request, we talked with Sophea and his parents about the possibility of referring him to a free school in Phnom Penh that would give him more possibilities in life. “Handicap International is helping me put my plans into action and has suggested I enroll in a school in the capital. It would be so great if they offered me a place!” he adds.
In the meantime, he needs to visit Handicap International's team at rehabilitation center, a two-hour drive from his village, so he can be fitted with a new leg and continue pursuing his dreams.
Handicap International in Cambodia
Our organization was founded in 1982 to provide the survivors of Cambodian landmine explosions with prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation—a task we're still carrying out today. HI also clears mines, educates the public about the risks posed by these weapons, and runs a number of other disability prevention and inclusion projects in the country. Learn more about our work in Cambodia.
All photos are credited to Lucas Veuve and Handicap International.