Editor’s note: World of Children Founders are currently on a humanitarian trip to Southeast Asia. This article was written by Harry Leibowitz, reflecting on his experience in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Last night was a very emotional one for me while here in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Over the past several days we have visited with 2012 Honoree Benoît Duchâteau-Arminjon (aka “Benito”) and his programs for blind and deaf children in Cambodia. Over 20 years ago, he and his team developed the first and only truly comprehensive Braille system for the Khmer language, which is a very complex one involving 33 consonants, 23 vowels and another 12 “dependent vowels.” But more on this later.
Last night we were privileged to watch a show performed in a restaurant by over 2 dozen blind and deaf children. Many of the blind children played the music while the deaf children did traditional dance and some did “shadow puppet” programs.
Here is the amazing part: if nobody told you the dancers were deaf, you would not have known. They were as good as any non-hearing-impaired dancers, and although they could not hear the music, they did not miss a beat and the synchronization was absolutely perfect. It gave me goose bumps! Most of these children are now in their late teens and have grown up in the care of Benito and his schools at Krousar Thmey.
Now back to the Khmer Braille system — In the typical Braille system we are told that there are 6 “dots” used to create all characters, but in Khmer, because of the complexity, the children have to learn a system with as many as 3 times that many dots. We watched their little fingers work on this and write in Braile, which has to be done in reverse of the way they read. They actually have to learn to write backwards and read forwards…BUT THEY DO IT!!!
What discipline and courage these children display.
We are so very proud of them and of Benito and his team at Krousar Thmey.