"They even kicked us out at night," said visually impaired Chap To, who has spent his life fighting for the rights of people with disabilities.
Despite being visually impaired, To has overcome many challenges to become a successful advocate for people with disabilities in Cambodia.
He is president of the Musical Associations For People with Disabilities (MAPD) and the first person with a disability to serve as Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Growing up with a disability, he faced difficult experiences. He lost his sight at a young age and faced discrimination and exclusion from society. However, he refused to let his disability define him and studied hard to achieve his dream of becoming a musician.
In 2012, he established MAPD. The association provides training and support to people with disabilities so that they can find jobs and live independently.
“I had a dream of helping people with disabilities get the education and training they need to find jobs and live independently. That is why MAPD offers a variety of training programs, including art, singing, massage, and learning the alphabet by touch. These programs can help people with disabilities develop the skills they need to succeed in their journey,” To told Kiripost.
He is also a vocal advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. He has spoken out against discrimination and violence, and has worked to improve their access to education and healthcare.
As of now, the association, located in Phnom Penh’s Toul Kork district, has become a well-being organization, consisting of approximately 700 members who are blind or have physical living disabilities.
“They even kicked us out at night”
To was born with congenital malformations, which made him different from other children. This led to him being discriminated against by his neighbors and society.
As president of MAPD, To has worked tirelessly to seek support for people with disabilities. He has faced many challenges, including difficulties in finding accommodation for group singing events in the provinces and being discriminated against by landlords who refused to rent to people because of their disabilities.
“Due to a lack of financial support, I and my team of 10 disabled people had to sleep under a tent when traveling to sing in the provinces. In relation to our living place, we had to move 11 times because some landlords seemed disgusted by the idea of having people with disabilities living in their homes, and they even kicked us out at night.”
To was born in Bavet City, Svay Rieng Province, and has four siblings. As the third child, he is the only one of his siblings who was born blind.
Although he faced belittlement in his journey, To never gave up on his education. He persevered to graduate with a degree in Business Administration from the National University of Management in 2016. Between 2021 and 2022, he attended eight short training courses, including singing, massage and administration.
“I have talents”
It is no coincidence that To, the father of two sons, has achieved such a high position. He has a special ability to remember things and holds a high level of knowledge in administration, management and communication, mixing a unique talent with persistence.
“Just because I’m blind doesn’t mean that I’m useless or that I cannot do anything. I have talents and abilities just like anyone else who contributes to society. Give me the opportunity to prove myself to you,” he said.
He stressed that it is important to give people with disabilities the opportunity to show the world what they can do. He believes that everyone has something special to offer, and that society should not let disabilities limit potential.
In 2013, To met Nhem Morakot, Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Women's Affairs in charge of disability, during the inauguration of MAPD. This meeting was a turning point in his life.
With the immense support of Morakot, who gave him the opportunity to showcase his talents despite his disability, and with his perseverance, To was appointed Under Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Affairs by the Government on July 28, 2023.
This is the first time in Cambodian history that a person with visual impairments has been appointed by the Cambodian Government - a sign of encouragement that people with visual impairments can hold high positions in the Ministry.
To said that he is honored to be nominated to serve as a senior government official and believes that it is an inspiring example for people with disabilities that will encourage them to continue to explore their potential.
He is determined to use this position to advocate for disabled people's rights by cooperating with relevant ministries to develop an extensive policy framework, access decent employment opportunities, provide convenient environmental accessibility, and other lacking assessments.
“We plan to work with the Ministry of Education to ensure that school programs include information about the rights of people with disabilities and eliminate any form of discrimination in both the private and government sectors,” he said.
He highlighted organizations that provide support to people with disabilities and partner in the government's efforts for them to access education and treatment.
He also mentioned that the government is constructing a National Center for the Disabled in Kandal Province. It will provide a comprehensive range of services to people with disabilities, including rehabilitation, education and employment, which is expected to be completed later this year.
Nevertheless, To is encouraging people with disabilities to seek opportunities to develop their skills and abilities. It is important to remember that people all have the potential to succeed, regardless of their own disabilities.
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