OIC: The Cambodia Project, a locally-based initiative aiming to provide speech therapy to those with speaking and swallowing disorders, was ranked among the top 500 NGOs in the world according to NGO Advisor, an independent media organization monitoring nonprofits across the globe.
The project, started under local NGO CABDICO in 2013, aims to not only train speech therapists in Cambodia but spread awareness about speech and swallowing disorders. Presently, Cambodia does not have any speech therapists despite an estimated population of 600,000 citizens suffering from speech issues.
Many children with speech and swallowing disorders are forced out of school due to a lack of resources and general misunderstanding of what speech disorders are. But OIC, ranked 453rd and the only NGO in Cambodia on the list, has been working to instruct teachers on how to deal with students facing these problems and provide care for those trying to overcome speech and swallowing issues.
“It’s an honor to be ranked amongst so many well-known NGOs like Oxfam, ActionAid and Kiva. We are proud to add a Cambodian initiative to this world ranking,” said Weh Yeoh, founder and managing director of OIC. “After only three years of existence, our efforts to change the lives of rural Cambodians are starting to be recognized by the international world.”
This is the second year OIC has been named in the list by the Geneva-based news outlet. NGO Advisor uses journalism and research to “to highlight innovation, impact and governance in the nonprofit sector.”
OIC has kick-started a number of innovative initiatives, most recently the “Day Without Speech” campaign, which asked supporters to go anywhere from an hour to 24 hours without speaking. The campaign aimed to show people what life is like for those with speaking issues, and through donations to specific groups around the world trying the “Day Without Speech,” OIC made more than $16,000.
In April, the project started its first crowdfunding campaign on newly established Cambodian crowdfunding site TosFund, hoping to raise enough money to train 180 teachers in Battambang, Pursat, Prey Veng, Kandal, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh provinces.
“Our goal is to work with teachers who already have a background in this kind of work, and eventually have this training be included within the larger framework of how classrooms are run,” Mr. Yeoh said.
“Imagine if you are a parent whose child needs speech therapy but you are unable to access any of these services,” he added. “It would be incredibly isolating. This campaign gives parents hopes for their children that they can get them into schools like other children in the country.”
Mr. Yeoh himself has been an outspoken critic of the way many NGOs in Cambodia operate, questioning why international organizations in many developing countries, including Cambodia, operate without a specific end date and a why there is “an air of fatalism” when it comes to the eventual handover of projects to the government.
“Localization is extremely difficult, especially when governments are used to international organizations doing the work for them. It’s far easier to keep the status quo running – the foreign organization doing the work, rather than promoting local ownership,” he wrote in an op-ed. “As long as the international community keeps on doing it, there is no incentive for governments to step in and take responsibility.”
But OIC has taken pains to reverse this trend and integrate more local staff to slowly build up to its eventual exit. In its three years in action, OIC has helped more than 100 children with speech issues and been lauded for its concrete 14-year exit plan that it believes will guarantee that speech therapy by Cambodians, for Cambodians can be led by the government.
By 2030, OIC hopes to have 100 speech therapists employed by the government, allowing them to completely hand off the project.
Mr. Yeoh said he was honored by the ranking and believed it would help spread awareness of their efforts to address a problem plaguing so many Cambodian children and adults in need of assistance.
“I hope that this enables us to better serve Cambodian people who need speech therapy through more partnerships with government and other NGOs,” he said.
Communications manager Philip Nalangan said OIC’s innovation was a key factor in the ranking, and credited their creativity to the difficulty of the work they are trying to do in Cambodia.
OIC Cambodia was established because there is no local speech therapist in Cambodia despite the urgent need of the service in the country,” he told Khmer Times. “One of our major challenges so far has been to increase the awareness amongst government leaders about speech therapy and how lives and communities can be changed by it. We want to spread this positive message to them, and we hope this international recognition gets their attention and support.”
Seven-year-old Mai sits in his father’s lap as he blows bubbles with his disability worker Somalai. Blowing bubbles helps children with a communication and swallowing disability improve their muscle control, which helps them speak more clearly. Hugo Sharp/OIC: The Cambodia Project