Sokunlina Vang, Librarian, IDP ACE, PhnomPenh Cambodiashares her story of ability, courage, and gratitude.
Lina (Lee-na) grew up in a poor village in Cambodia, during the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot) regime. At the age of 5, Lina had a fever which was diagnosed as polio. Due to the conditions at the time, the polio vaccine wasn’t available to all children and healthcare and medicine were not an option due to the financial situation of the family and community. Lina was unable to go to school and has spent her life in a wheelchair since the age of 6.
“My sister taught me to read and write at home. My mum was a tailor and she taught me how to sew. I used to help her out with the sewing for her customers. In 1992, my dad took me to an organisation that was helping people with disability learn skills such as typing. There were no computers then, it was using a typewriter. I also started to learn English at this organisation.
In 1993, the skills I had learnt provided me the opportunity to start working at ACE. The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was in existence at the time. I am forever grateful for Mrs Lorraine Sanderson and former H.E Lieutenant General John Sanderson for their support and mentoring to give me the confidence and the opportunity to get into the workforce. Having the ability to work has changed my life.
When I started working, I continued my English studies. My dad used to drop me at English classes in the morning from 6am-7:30am, then take me to work and then for some terms bring me back to English classes from 6pm-7:30pm. My English was not great when I started work, but IDP developed me for the job. I started out at the reception desk at ACE IDP and with my improved English and development, I am now the librarian.
Over the years, I have faced discrimination, but I remember the kind people who supported me and made the workplace a better place for me and for others. Study has provided a pathway for me to overcome some of the barriers I have faced. I’ve been at IDP for 29 years and IDP has been in Cambodia for 30 years, so it is pretty special.
I am most proud of my parents, my sister, and my friends, who helped me study and believed in me. IDP has provided me with study, courses, skills and knowledge on how to deal with internal and external customers, confidence, and a home away from home.
My challenge to everyone, about their thoughts on disability, is to have an open mind. Don’t look with pity or look down on people. Get to know the person, understand them, see what they can do instead of what you think they can’t do. Be kind and helpful.
For those with a disability, I recommend learning the local language and then learn English (or French or Thai). Believe that you can and get a skill that will help you get a job.”
Lina, we celebrate your perseverance, dedication, and uniqueness. Thank you for sharing your story, which we know will inspire others to open their minds, be respectful and kind.
To everyone in our IDP community – we celebrate all of your combined abilities.
Note – ACE (Australian Centre for Education) operates in Cambodia as part of the IDP company