Cambodia’s Deaf Development Programme

December 8th, 2015

A visit to Cambodia’s Deaf Development Programme
If you were to walk in off the street into one of Deaf Development Programme’s (DDP) classrooms you wouldn’t be too surprised. You’d see enthusiastic teenagers learning to read, do math and work together. What you wouldn’t realize, is that deaf kids until 18 years ago were not included in the Cambodia’s education system and were seen as burdens with no role in their society. They were isolated and had almost no way to communicate with their own families let alone the outside world.
In 2001 Charlie Dittmeier ,a catholic priest from Louisville, Kentucky who had already been working with the deaf, arrived to help shape a program that was undergoing a major restructuring. He understood the huge need for an organization that could provide education, training and support to a large community that was shut out of a
meaningful role in society.
Thankfully, I heard about DDP and asked Charlie if I could document it’s work. I was invited to visit their programs in Phnom Penh and Kampot. The Kampot program is a regional center that provides educational, vocational and agricultural training. In addition, its outreach workers go out into rural areas to both locate potential candidates for its regional school as well as help deaf villagers who might have other needs.
These students are not just immersed in a learning environment but are surrounded, very likely for the first time, by friends and teachers that appreciated the totality of who they are. I can easily imagine what their lives might have been like without this program. I was able to travel to a few outlying rural areas where the kids or young adults were not able to participate in the regional “away from home” schooling and training. These deaf youth, who might have some support from their family are still left with only the most rudimentary gestures to communicate with.
DDP actively seeks out deaf kids and young adults, connecting them into a supportive network. Even in the case of Srey Mom (see photo), who lives alone with her toddler son and can’t participate in organized educational programs, DDP helps to make sure she and her son have access to whatever services the local government or other NGOs can provide.
Prior to DDP and another organization, Krousar Thmey, who focus on younger deaf children, there simply was no means for deaf Cambodians to communicate with their families and society. The deaf were not brought into the education system to learn either sign language or reading. Each day teachers and interpreters from both organizations gather at DDP’s offices in Phnom Penh to certify,adapt and literally create language. In many cases there are competing signs for the same word in which case a decision is made as to which is the best. If no sign exists they must create one. It was fascinating to watch and document this process.
For more details about the people in my photographs please see the captions. For more information about DDP, please visit their website at

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