One Woman’s Mission to Change the Lives of Persons with Disabilities in Cambodia

January 16, 2024

If you go to Mepring village, chances are you might run into Ms. Vannet, who is usually surrounded by a group of women and girls.

For years she has worked here, coordinating with the commune’s council to help persons with disabilities transform their lives. It is a cause close to her heart. So far, she has helped more than 300 persons with disabilities live better lives, more than half of whom are women and girls.

As director of the Women and Children with Disabilities Forum (WWDF) in Batheay District, she has been supporting people in a range of issues both big and small, from obtaining disability identification assessment cards to accessing cash transfers, from receiving better health to gaining access to education services, she has been front and centre in making sure that no one with disabilities is left behind.

In Batheay District, where Vannet works, persons with disabilities face numerous challenges in accessing public services, such as social protection, health, employment, education, and local administration documents. 

Besides, hundreds of persons with disabilities cannot get around because of the lack of physical infrastructure such as ramps and toilets that are accessible for wheelchair users. This is not uncommon across districts in Cambodia where 21 percent of household members aged five or above have some level of disabilities, defined as facing difficulties in any of the six functional domains, according to Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2021-2022 (CDHS)[1].

What motivates Vannet’s work, and the fact that she is the Director of a persons with disability organization, is even more inspiring.  She, herself, has a physical disability.

She says she faced countless challenges growing up with a disability, and it made her see life with a very different lens. Instead of being passive and letting the world dictate what she will do, she decided to chart her own course.  

Vannet conducted an awareness campaign on disability inclusion and gender for persons with disabilities.

Vannet conducted an awareness campaign on disability inclusion and gender for persons with disabilities.

Vannet does not like to reflect on the discrimination she faced as a child or a young adult. It is for her the past. But that past has forged her present and future.

"I have faced challenges I would not wish for anyone with disabilities. So, my mission is clear: To eliminate any form of discrimination and violence against persons with disabilities, especially women and girls,” Vannet said. “I want to promote a culture of inclusion to advance the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life.

Even as she has risen to the role of Director, her drive to get better and learn more has not diminished. Recently, she enrolled in an advocacy and coaching training workshop to help her develop and better plan and implement her plans. The training was conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization, with financial support from the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD).

She has applied those newly acquired advocacy skills to lobby the commune council to allocate funds for building an accessible toilet in the commune office and to include disability activities in the Commune Investment Programme 2023-2025.  

The adopted activities include providing transportation assistance for persons with disabilities to access health services, conducting campaigns to educate the public on disability rights, and facilitating access to social assistance. 

I am glad to be a part of this change, and I hope to continue working with them (local government) to make our commune more inclusive and accessible for everyone,” Vannet said.  

She added that her office would need more technical and financial support from the UNPRPD, UNDP and Cambodian Disabled People’s Organization to continue advocacy work on disability inclusion with commune councils, and ensure the sustainability of the organisation. 

Colleagues and observers say watching her work over many years has inspired and continue to inspire them to go out there and make positive change.

  - Sit Song, Project Coordinator-Disability Inclusion, UNDP Cambodia 
  - Vannda Slout, Technical Specialist Officer, UNDP Cambodia 
  - Velibor Popovic, Technical Specialist - Governance and Social Transformation  

Contact: Chhunmuoy Ath, Communications Analyst, UNDP Cambodia, at 

[1] Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2021-2022, March 2023, 372