Images and film shot on assignment for Caritas Australia as part of the Project Compassion 2018 appeal.
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Rattanak is a skilled young barber, living an independent life in rural Cambodia. But it wasn’t always that way. As a child he contracted polio and also became deaf. Like many people who are deaf or hard of hearing, Rattanak faced isolation at home, unable to communicate with his family or community until being introduced to the Deaf Development Program (DDP), based in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
There are over 51,000 deaf people in Cambodia but DDP is the only deaf training school open to adults. The Deaf Development Program (DDP) is run by Caritas Australia partner, Maryknoll Cambodia, and provides sign language, job training and interpreting services to people aged 16 and over who are deaf or hard of hearing. The centre is also raising awareness about deafness in wider Cambodian society.
Most students in DDP spend two years learning Khmer sign language, literacy, numeracy and life skills then spend a year on a job training course such as sewing, cooking, barbering, wood carving, metal crafts, electrical fan repairing, beauty and hair dressing. The aim is to give deaf people a path to an independent future.
‘Deaf people need sign language in order to communicate but their parents cannot sign, their neighbours cannot sign. Deaf people are among their family but in fact they are isolated.’ – Sokly, Deaf Development Program, Co-Director
DDP set up a Barber Shop next to their head office in Phnom Penh to enable their students to gain practical experience. The trainees practice on each other and the general public can also walk in for a discounted hair cut.
“The goal of the Deaf Development Program is to help deaf people achieve independence and to be respected and accepted in all aspects of Cambodian society.” – Sokly, Deaf Development Program, Co-Director
Rattanak studied Cambodian sign language, Khmer writing, social sciences and maths, for two years before learning his trade as a barber. After graduating in 2012, he set up a barbershop outside his family home about an hours drive from Phnom Penh, which has since proven to be highly successful.
“Because of DDP, I’ve had the opportunity to develop and to learn and increase my knowledge, now I’m much more confident in everything that I do,” Rattanak says.
Social media became a big part of Rattanak’s life to not only communicate with friends but also watching educational YouTube videos about hairdressing. After he was introduced to his wife hearing Phirom, he used to talk to her through social media and after they were married in 2016 he taught her sign language. They are now expecting their first baby.
“Rattanak is a good example. He’s very independent and he can make his own money, he can save money, he can set up his family, he got married and started a family. His future is bright, there is no going back. His life can only improve for the better.” Sokly, Deaf Development Program, Co-Director