Sopheap is a Prosthetic and Orthotics’ technician who works at a large rehabilitation centre near Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
We first met Sopheap about 8 years ago, and she instantly made an impact on us, because despite her limited English language skills, and our even more limited Khmer (Cambodian) skills, we were somehow able to communicate and laugh together.
Sopheap is a 45-year-old lady, married with 3 children. She was just a small toddler when the Khmer Rouge emptied the city of Phnom Penh and took over the country in 1975. She survived 4 years of Khmer Rouge atrocities as a small child, and the following civil war and conflict which lasted until 1989.
In 1991, a peace treaty was signed to end the conflict. It was this same year, when she was just 17 years of age, that Sopheap stood on an un-exploded land mine left over from the long running conflict. This accident resulted in her receiving catastrophic injuries to her lower leg and she ended up requiring a below the knee amputation to survive this injury.
Because most people in the medical field had been killed under the Khmer Rouge regime, there were limited qualified staff available to work in the area of Prosthetics and Orthotics. There were incredibly high rates of land mine injuries occurring every day, with farmers working in rice fields, or children playing in the dirt who would pick up or stand on these old land mines. Cambodia soon became the leading country for land mine injuries.
In 1992, about a year after her initial injury, Sopheap received her first prosthetic limb from the Cambodia Trust. It was durin g her rehabilitative period that she developed an interest in Prosthetics and Orthotics, and she was quickly employed, and has remained working in this field, for the last 26 years.
She was never able to formally study Prosthetics and Orthotics and has had to learn most of her skills on the job. Her speciality is making pelite covers for prosthetics legs, moulding polypropylene to fit negative moulds, and she is incredibly skilled at making the most amazing prosthetic hands, which look incredibly realistic, complete with fingernails and wrinkles in the skin.
Our Prosthetic and Orthotic volunteers from Development Together have enjoyed their time working alongside Sopheap. She is always willing to teach, and she loves sharing her knowledge and skills. Thankfully she also has the confidence to quickly jump in and remind our student volunteers how to safely use their knife and cut away from themselves!
Thank you Sopheap for everything you do for people living with disability, and for your openness and willingness to embrace our volunteers and guide them when they are placed at your centre.