IM this article to a friend!

February 17, 2003

Cambodian disabled children warm up to President's wife

From: Straits Times, Singapore - 17 Feb 2003

By M Nirmala

SOME children could not see, while others could not hear Mrs S R Nathan. But when she placed her hand reassuringly on their shoulders, they warmed up to her and started chatting and reading to her.

She asked a six-year-old boy, Rotanak, who is partially blind, if he could see and he chirped: 'Can, can.'

She also watched as Pi Sey, a nine-year-old girl and S'van Thanac, a 10-year-old boy, followed their teacher, Miss Lao Kaliyan, 30, who was conducting a lesson in sign language.

Mrs Nathan was at Krousar Thmey - which means New Family - a Cambodian foundation run by Cambodians in Phnom Penh.

Mrs Nathan, who was accompanying her husband Singapore President S R Nathan on a four-day state visit to Cambodia, made this visit yesterday while he met Cambodian leaders.

Dressed in a cream-coloured blouse and slacks, she spent an hour listening to how the foundation helps disabled children who are often ostracised by their family members.

She walked around the classrooms where children are taught sign language and music and dance so that they can develop their creativity and receive a well-rounded education.

The foundation also integrates the disabled into mainstream schools as it believes that this will make the population more sensitive to the needs of handicapped children.

At the end of the visit, Mrs Nathan saw just how well the blind and deaf children had survived against the odds.

For their special guest, the children put up a 15-minute performance where the deaf did traditional Cambodian dances and the blind played the music.

Although they could not hear, the dancers used their feet to pick up vibrations on the floor that were made by the musical instruments.

Later, Mrs Nathan made the children and the teachers beam widely when she gave a donation and left gift packs of biscuits, chocolates and lollipops.

Copyright © 2003 Singapore Press Holdings. All right reserved.