Channtey Heng

Ever since I was born into a poor, broken family in a small village in Cambodia, I have always needed to fight barriers and discrimination. When I was two years old I was diagnosed with polio in my right leg. This was around the time that my father left us for another woman, shirking his responsibilities to his family. My mother was very hurt, and had to work immensely hard to look after 3 children with disabilities as a sole parent.

As I grew up, I noticed how often my mother would cry. My two brothers also had different impairments, and we lived in a small house with nothing to eat some days. This all made me very sad, and I believe our circumstances encouraged me to stand up to the hurt and anger. I set an intention to changing my family situation.

When I was ten years old, I left my family to live on my auntie’s house because it was closer to my school. I resolved to study hard, and I helped my aunt with the farming. Since that time, I have never came back to live with my family (although to this day I still see them often).

I moved from one place to another following my studying. I sometimes stayed in a small room on the ground and looking for a job. I was a cleaner while I couldn’t find a good job to do because no one recruited people with disabilities.

When I was 18 years old in starting my bachelor degree,  my eyesight began to degenerate. I was not able to read the whiteboard or books, and as there were no assistive devices and accessible infrastructure, I needed to ask my friends to read things to me.

Though I was losing more and more of my eyesight, making studying and traveling quite challenging, I never gave up my study. I obtained my Master degree, all the while moving from volunteer to staff to advisor at an international organization which deals with disability programs and awareness. I proudly supported my family and made the better living situation. By that time, I started to use a screen reader, and I was forced to learn and work using audio and aural techniques. I also managed to learn to write and speak fluent English while I was going blind.

Though I had achieved success in my studies and career, I continued to encounter barriers as a result of my disabilities – I could not enjoy the things most people take for granted, especially when it comes to relationships and intimacy. It always felt as though no one accepted me. At times while I was living alone in the city, I was so sad at the prospect of losing my eyesight, and the constant challenges were an overwhelming reminder of this. But I would tell myself, ‘as long as I am still alive in this world, I have hope! I must be happy and smile! I am the leader of the family, I need to find an income for my family in the village who are depending on me.’ I promised myself that I must live for them, and for myself. I vowed to overcome the obstacles and barriers, and teach people how to think positively towards people with disabilities.

My purpose is to motivate all people with disabilities, and I urge them to please live with positive thinking and see your ability better than your disability. And always remember: no one is perfect in this world, and you are the only one who can change your life!