The Physical Rehabilitation Programme in Cambodia run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is coming into its 26th year.

Manager Philip Morgan says the programme helps provide artificial limbs and mobility devices for people with disabilities, primarily those who have been affected by the war and particularly in the rural areas.

The ICRC has two rehab centres based in Cambodia’s Battambang and Kampong Speu provinces which cater to thousands of people in need.

People with disabilities (who they call “clients”) can visit these centres and get a prosthetic arm or leg made, as well as receive treatment from physical therapists present.

“We have three pillars that we adhere to at the ICRC – accessibility, quality service from trained staff and sustainability,” Morgan explains.

He adds that the humanitarian organisation has begun exploring a fourth pillar – social inclusion – which includes access to education and employment, as well as through sport and cultural activity.

Having previously worked as an orthotist in Britain, and with over 10 years of ICRC experience in developing countries such as North Sudan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, Morgan has brought to the table a sense of innovation and enthusiasm.

He is excited about the ICRC’s newest venture, the Mobile Workshop which is a van that has been retrofitted with all sorts of gadgets, including a generator and workbench, converting the vehicle into a travelling rehab centre.

This mobile outreach unit covers a triangle of three provinces – Siem Reap, Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom – serving all the villages and communes in the area. It started operations in August 2016 and has brought rehab closer to the clients.

There is a five-man crew on board, including a prosthetic and orthotic worker (P&O) and his assistant, a physical therapist, a social worker and driver.

We are fortunate to witness the workshop in action at the Kralanh district, about an hour away from Siem Reap.

The van arrives bright and early in the morning at the appointed venue, the village chief’s office, and clients begin filing in steadily.

By 9.30am, there are already 12 people being attended to. The crew jumps straight into action, setting up the work bench, hammering away, tightening screws and shaving bits off prosthetic limbs.

The crowd slowly gathering is happy to mingle with each other, and share experience, problems and solutions.

It is an uplifting sight.

Fifty-one-year-old Keo Ratha is on hand to explain the processes. According to the physical rehab manager from Siem Reap, there are about 10 to 12 communes in each district to which the van goes, and the team stays at each venue for about eight days at a time.

“Most of the work revolves around prosthetic and orthotic repairs, but we also provide wheelchairs and crutches to returning clients,” Ratha says, adding that the team has seen over 700 clients this year.

Mobile Workshop

The mobile workshop team consists of five people including a P&O and his assistant, a physical therapist, a social worker and of course the driver. Photo: ICRC

He explains that news about the mobile workshop travels through word of mouth.

“We also make radio announcements and letters are sent to the district governors who then inform the commune and village leaders. And we have a social action worker in the district who spreads information about the unit, and its schedule.”

All services extended are free of charge, and it only takes only about 15 to 20 minutes to attend to each client.

Kruop Sareaum, 65, stepped on a mine in 1986, and lost her right foot.

On this particular morning, she has taken a motor taxi from her home less than half an hour away to replace her prosthetic foot and get a new sock. This is her third visit to the mobile workshop in the last year.

Sareaum who is married (to a person with disability) and has four grown up children, continues to work on her farm.

“I am grateful for the van and the lucru,” she says softly in Khmer, referring to the crew on the mobile workshop who takes care of her.

“Now it is much easier for me to get help. I don’t have to travel so far to Siem Reap anymore.”

Sum Reth, 53, was only 10 years old when a bomb fell from the sky about 5m away from him.

“It was 1975 and I remember the American planes. I tried to escape but I couldn’t get away fast enough.”

The rice farmer is missing an arm and an eye. But he is all smiles today, enjoying the attention from the visitors.

“Six years ago, I got a prosthetic arm and I am so grateful for it. It is very useful as I can now work in the rice fields easily.

“Before, it was very difficult because I couldn’t cut and hold the rice at the same time.”

I ask him how he remains so cheerful even though he had been dealt such a terrible blow.

“I am happy,” he says simply, “because there is now peace in my country.”

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ICRC helps to rehabilitate a nation