Actions speak louder than words for Weh Yeoh.
The former Carlingford resident was working as a physiotherapist in Cambodia when he realised the need for children with communication difficulties to access speech therapy.
He founded charity OIC Cambodia three years ago, which now has 30 staff and volunteers..
“The challenge is so great that we have started from the ground up,” Mr Yeoh said.
“Around 600,000 Cambodians or one in 25 are living with a communication and swallowing disability. Australia has over 6000 registered speech therapists while Cambodia has none. Growing up in Australia, I became aware of how fortunate I am to live here. Kids in some other countries don’t have the same opportunities we do here.”
The charity has helped more than 100 children and is ranked in the top 500 non-government organisations in the world, according to NGO ADVISOR. It was the only one from Cambodia on the list.
It also works with schools to train teachers how to work with children with communication difficulties.
“At around the same time we started, I met Ling, who had slurred speech and was the kind of kid who would be written off,” Mr Yeoh said.
“We trained up a person in basic therapy to begin working with Ling, whose personality shone through. He’s now what we call a larrikin. He has improved his speech and is going to school for the first time at age 12, where he’s coming second in his class. It’s been amazing to be able to change his life.”
The charity’s long term vision is for the Cambodian government to take over the system they’ve developed.
“Our goal is to work with the Cambodian government to help develop a university course and create jobs for speech therapists,” Mr Yeoh said.
“We have an exit plan strategy to leave Cambodia by 2030 and for 100 Cambodian speech therapists to be employed by the government by 2030. The Cambodian government has a lot of issues it needs to address. But the education minister has been responsive and one university has agreed in principle to a speech therapy course. Our biggest challenge is fund-raising as government grants don’t exist for speech therapy.”
Mr Yeoh is currently in Sydney to encourage schools to take part in the Day Without Speech fundraising challenge for OIC Cambodia.
His former high school Trinity Grammar recently raised over $13,000, where students gave up speaking for several hours to communicate through hand gestures, writing and technology.
Mr Yeoh hopes his former primary school Murray Farm will also get on board.
“Not only are they helping kids in Cambodia, they’re experiencing something they haven’t done before,” he said.
“The experience of not being able to talk changes the kids’ perception of a normal life. It was a memorable experience at Trinity Grammar, where the kids can’t stop talking about it.”
A crowd-funding page was set up last week, which has already raised more than $2000.
‘$20 will helps us reach two students through our training,” Mr Yeoh said.
- Donations: oiccambodia.org.