In Cambodia is it estimated that over half a million people are living with a disability. Of these, 50% are under 20 years of age due to the country’s young population.
Skateistan Cambodia involves disabled youth in a socially inclusive program where they learn to skate alongside their non-disabled peers. More than 20% of students are physically or intellectually disabled and participate in skate sessions on a regular basis, interacting with students of all backgrounds.
Skateistan recognizes the extraordinary capacity of children with disability to succeed in sport, and their need to be included in the skateboarding community. Since late 2011, the disability program has focused on activities that encourage students to engage positively with one another and create friendships regardless of skills or appearance.
In Cambodia, and other countries across the world, children with disability are often neglected, isolated and due to social discrimination have very limited access to education. Through skateboarding, Skateistan inspires confidence, provides a positive physical outlet and gives youth with disability the opportunity to overcome barriers to their inclusion.
In a society where a disability is often seen as an inability, Skateistan Cambodia's disabled program is designed to encourage youth with disabilities to participate alongside their peers. Nearly 20% of Skateistan Cambodia students are physically or mentally disabled and take part in one of our three weekly disabled classes.
Skateistan Cambodia’s Education Coordinator and Skate Instructor, Tin, says that people in Cambodia will often look down on and ridicule people with a disability. In class, she teaches students that equality matters.
"I tell them that the other person is the same. I say, ‘Please don’t laugh at them, don’t look down on them. We are [all] skateboarders so we need to make relationships together.’ Sometimes [the disabled students] have no hands or legs so they are really shy with them. But we motivate them and let them know that they can do tricks like other kids. We push them to join the open session with other kids so they can know each other and so they can know for themselves that they can do things like other kids – they feel confident.”
-Tin, Skateistan Cambodia Youth Leader
According to UNICEF’s 2013 ‘The State of the World’s Children’ report, little will change for children with disabilities unless attitudes of communities, media and governments first start to change. So while it is important for children with disabilities to believe in themselves, it is important for others to believe in them too.
We were also very excited to learn that some students are so eager to skate that they start getting ready hours before the session starts.
“Every week when the students know they are coming to Skateistan they are very excited, they wake up early in the morning and prepare from 7am. They love to play and show what they can do with skateboarding. It makes them very happy to come here."
- Borey, Counselor from Skateistan partner organisation that works with disabled youth.
By integrating our disabled program with the regular program, Skateistan students learn to accept and skate with each other regardless of their differences. Thanks to our amazing local skate instructors; Tin, Pheakna, Nup and Serey, students from the disabled program have improved immensely in just over a year – in both their self-esteem and skating abilities. It is through skateboarding and educational opportunities that Skateistan Cambodia provides youth with disabilities the opportunity to overcome barriers to their inclusion and equality.
Students after a session with pro skateboarder Tony Hawk.
Having a break.
Skateistan Cambodia Youth Leader Nup helps a student with her helmet.
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*Photos courtesy of Heather Faulkner, Sam Jam, and Skateistan.