Learning the Value of Australian Aid in Cambodia

This blog is written by CBM Australia Senior Advisor of Program Development, David Brown, who accompanied a delegation of Australian politicians on a learning tour to Cambodia from 17 to 22 January 2016. The delegates visited a range of development and humanitarian agencies to see firsthand the type of projects supported by the Australian government’s aid program.

Phnom Penh is a city of two million people. It is the centre of Cambodia’s growth projects – its housing and construction boom, and the face of Chinese investment in new townships and large casinos. The normal daily scene would leave an Occupational Health and Safety officer in Australia pale – two men ride by on a motorbike, the passenger carrying a three metre ladder, at high speed a helmetless adolescent weaves in and out of SUVs, tuk-tuks, bikes and pedestrians – watched by a group of three men in wheelchairs who lost limbs to landmines placed during the terrible internal conflict of more than thirty disability, years ago.

A delegation of Australian politicians visit Cambodia to learn the value of Australian Aid in the country.

A delegation of Australian politicians visit Cambodia to learn the value of Australian Aid in the country.

Cambodia has reportedly the largest percentage of population with a disability in South East Asia – and the rapid growth in access to motorised transport without safe infrastructure means that road traffic accidents now account for more than 10 times the physical impairments still occurring through unexploded landmines.

I’m here with a delegation of six lower and upper Australian parliamentary house members. They are visiting as part of a Gates Foundation grant to enable Save the Children to set up a series of visits with development and humanitarian agencies supported by the Australian Government’s aid program, of which CBM Australia is one.

Since 2010, CBM Australia has partnered with the Cambodian Development Mission for Disability (CDMD), with funding support from the Australian Aid Program. CBM Australia supports CDMD to provide a comprehensive and empowering approach to disability inclusion in Cambodia across five provinces, and supports more than 140 Self-help groups of people with disability and their families.

Participation in CDMD Self-help groups leads to positive psychological and economic changes, as well as increased household incomes for people with disability. And this is what the delegation is coming to see.

The plastic chairs have been covered with brightly coloured material – a normal custom for weddings and other important events in Cambodia. Even some old electric fans are wheeled in to keep the politicians comfortable – and the normal offerings of drink and fruit are generous. Everything is set as the Australian politicians arrive at a commune outside of Phnom Penh.

The visit aims to set the context in which Cambodian people with disability live and the ongoing challenges related to income, access, participation and rights. Also, it aims to give a glimpse of the kind of ongoing community work led by CDMD and its committed staff and volunteers.

The Self-help Group of 12 women and men are part of CBM-partner CDMD’s network of empowering people with disability to problem solve and support each other in finding solutions to the challenges they face in their lives. Also present is the Vice-President of the Commune – a local politician – and the Australian politicians congratulate him for his response to meeting some of the needs of people with disability.

After we give a contextual overview of challenges facing the broader population of people with disability in Cambodia, the delegation hear the personal stories of three group members who had benefited through increased commune support and loans to assist in livelihood activities: small businesses and chicken farms amongst others.

A CDMD volunteer advocate, Chenda, gives a very moving account of her own commitment to changing attitudes, looking for greater educational opportunities, and the promotion of rights for all people with disability.

Chenda was born blind, as was her younger brother, and through the encouragement of her family and support from organisations such as CDMD and Handicap International, she was studying psychology at the Royal Phnom Penh University.  Through working as a disability rights advocate, she has learnt much about engaging with authorities, and her speech is a great indication of her skill.  She is extremely diplomatic but also able to communicate clearly the challenges of access to education and to fulfilment of rights.

“You gave a really inspiring talk. Thanks so much”.  A group of women politicians gathered around Chenda to congratulate her on her part in the meeting.

I was very impressed with this delegation – the politicians sat patiently during the translations and listened respectfully.  They asked intelligent questions and seemed to genuinely try to fit this scene from semi-rural Cambodia and the Self-help group’s stories into a way of thinking about the Australian Aid program.  The constant movement of chickens and the local itinerant salesmen’s tuk-tuk loudspeakers provided a dose of reality that seemed to be appreciated by all. And their words of thanks and appreciation – particularly to Chenda and to the commune’s vice-president – were very sincere and heartfelt.

In 2015, CDMD with the support of CBM Australia and funding support from the Australian Aid Program, changed lives by:

  • 12,271 people with disability referred to health services
  • 339 children with disability enrolled in school
  • 542 people with disability improved their income through livelihood schemes, vocational training and participation in Self-help groups
  • 51 non government organisations and commune councils integrating disability inclusion into development plans
  • 274 awareness-raising events


Politicians who attended as part of the delegation included:

Mr Dan Tehan MP

Ms Gai Brodtmann MP

Senator Linda Reynolds CSC

The Hon Darren Chester MP

Ms Lisa Chesters MP

Ms Sharon Claydon MP

Thank you to Save the Children and the Gates Foundation for making this visit possible.

Building a world where everyone thrives

This blog was written by CBM Australia Advocacy and Policy Officer, Rachel Wallbridge, for contribution to the Campaign for Australian Aid blog.

In 2013, I had the privilege of working in the human rights field in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, in West Africa.

One night, I went to the national theatre and watched a play written by a famous Ghanaian playwright. I was greatly enjoying the production, especially the humorous reflections on Ghanaian culture and everyday life. However, my enjoyment suddenly halted when I observed the audience’s reaction to a character with disability. His disability was the comic relief of the entire play – every time he spoke, the audience roared with laughter. I didn’t find this funny.

After the play, my eyes were opened to a few uncomfortable realities.

I observed that the most isolated people – physically and socially – were most often people with disability and those with mental illness. I noticed that most street beggars were people with disability – not because they can’t work, but because they aren’t given the same opportunities to go to school or get a job. I saw a newspaper reporting on a case of infanticide – a baby had been killed by her own parents because she had a disability.

Two years later, I am back working in Australia and what drives me every day is imagining a world where all people, including people with disability, can enjoy their human rights and have the opportunity to thrive.

Australian Aid provides this opportunity.

Thanks to Australian Aid, people with disability living in some of the poorest communities now attend school for the first time, receive life changing healthcare and assistive devices, earn a living and are included in their communities.

Globally, one billion people have a disability – yet 80 per cent live in low and middle income countries. After my experience in Ghana, I can believe this statistic.

But I do feel hope.

For the first time the world has recognised that to end poverty, we need to include people with disability. The 2030 Agenda, including the Global Goals have 11 references to disability: this is worthy of celebration and hope.

Together and with the support of Australian Aid, we can advocate for and build a world that is fair, inclusive and safe for all people.

Will you join me?


Building a World For All by 2030

Imagine a world where people of all abilities have equal opportunities to thrive; a world where no one is left behind. That’s a world we can build by 2030.

Today is International Day of People with Disability; a United Nations sanctioned day which is celebrated each year on December 3. It’s an important day to raise awareness of the barriers people with disability so often face, and to promote action to include people with disability in all aspects of society.

This year, our celebrations highlight the recently adopted Global Goals – a set of 17 ambitious goals for global development that set out to end poverty, combat climate change, and reduce inequalities for all.

Over the next 15 years, these goals will transform our world and guide development efforts to leave no one behind. People with disability – who make up 15 per cent of the global population – are included in the goals.

Take a look at the new video we have created “Building a World For All” to celebrate International Day of People with Disability. It shows how the Global Goals can transform the lives of people with disability and build a better world for all.

This year’s theme is: Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities. According to United Nations Enable:

“Empowerment involves investing in people – in jobs, health, nutrition, education, and social protection. When people are empowered they are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities, they become agents of change and can more readily embrace their civic responsibilities.”

Empowering people with disability through building an inclusive world where everyone has equal opportunities to reach their full potential, not only benefits people with disability, but benefits society as a whole.

This International Day of People with Disability, let’s look forward and know that building that world is within our grasp. By 2030, we can build a world no one is left behind.

Will you help us build it? Share the video via the links below and celebrate this important day with us!

International Day for Persons with Disabilities 2015

5 year old Nirmal had very poor vision and was identified by CBR staff of CBM partner Biratnagar Eye Hospital in Nepal during an eye screening camp at his school. After a comprehensive assessment of his eyes he was provided with customized glasses.

5 year old Nirmal had very poor vision and was identified by CBR staff of CBM partner Biratnagar Eye Hospital in Nepal during an eye screening camp at his school. After a comprehensive assessment of his eyes he was provided with customized glasses.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), also known as World Disability Day is annually observed on 3 December each year. This Day aims to promote an awareness of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Theme for 2015

Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities

When spoken about in terms of disability, ‘inclusion’ means the concept of everybody – irrelevant of any kind of ability – being accepted into society without pity, restriction or limitation.

The estimated one billion people living with disabilities globally face many barriers to inclusion in key aspects of society. As a result, people with disabilities do not enjoy access to society the same way others do. Transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation remain a distant dream.
The exclusion of any individual from society affects not only this person and their family, but also the economic and social development of their entire community – a significant reservoir of human potential has gone untapped.

CBM advocates for equal rights of persons with disabilities in society and seeks to support healthcare, educational, rehabilitative and income generation services designed to maximise their quality of life. CBM aims to promote inclusion and make comprehensive healthcare, education and rehabilitation services available and accessible to the estimated one billion people in the world experiencing disability.

For people living in poverty with disability, like Lai from Cambodia, access to services that help break down barriers

For people living in poverty with disability, like Lai from Cambodia, access to services that help break down barriers – such as education, employment and healthcare – can assist in promoting the inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities in their families and their communities.

Agenda 2030: a look back and looking ahead

Elizabeth Lockwood is CBM’s UN Advocacy Officer in New York, and she shares this blog originally posted through CBM International. Elizabeth focuses on developing advocacy strategies to raise awareness, network, build capacity, and lobby for the rights of persons with disabilities at the UN level in relation to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Inclusive Development. She also coordinates efforts of mainstreaming persons with disabilities in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and conducts research and writes briefs to assist with strategies for inclusion of disability issues in Millennium Development Goal efforts. Elizabeth has worked with Deaf communities in five countries focusing on advocacy and grassroots activism, is fluent in five sign languages, and has a Ph.D. in Disability Studies.

Now that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been adopted (on 25 September), it is good to reflect and look back on the process and look ahead to the next steps, particularly in the context of the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Agenda 2030 versus the SDGs

First, I’d like to clarify Agenda 2030 versus the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Agenda 2030 – adopted by the UN General Assembly in September – is a substantive 35-page document containing five major sections (one of which includes the SDGs and targets). The sections of Agenda 2030 include: (1) Preamble, (2) Declaration, (3) Sustainable Development Goals and targets, (4) Means of implementation and the Global Partnership, and (5) Follow-up and review. All the components are important, as they are interlinked, yet the SDGs are the main tool for monitoring and implementation, and are particularly important at the national and regional levels. Additionally, the SDGs are important for persons with disabilities as they contain seven explicit references to persons with disabilities.

The SDGs versus the MDGs

The SDGs build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight goals agreed in 2000 to end extreme poverty by 2015. The MDGs have had a tremendous effect on the collaboration and prioritization of development work in developing countries over the last 15 years. Yet, persons with disabilities were not referenced in the MDGs and consequently excluded from many development programs and funding streams. The SDGs and inclusion of persons with disabilities now provide an avenue for disability-inclusive development

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Adopted in 2000 and end in 2015 Adopted in 2015 and end in 2030
Focus on developing countries Focus on all countries
To reduce extreme poverty To eradicate poverty in all its forms of sustainable development: economic (prosperity), social (people), and environmental (planet)
8 goals and 18 targets with 48 indicators 17 goals and 169 targets with 224 proposed indicators
No references to persons with disabilities 7 references in SDGs: education (2), employment, reducing inequalities, inclusive cities (2), disaggregation of data by disability [11 in Agenda 2030; 5 in indicators]

Looking back

The road to Agenda 2030 began in 2012 at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil in which one of the outcomes was an agreement by Member States to create a process to develop a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs). Subsequently, on January 22, 2013 the UN General Assembly called for the establishment of the Open Working Group by decision 67/555. The 30-member Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) was tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs. Importantly the OWG opened the doors for civil society participation at an unprecedented level.

The OWG sessions ran from March 2013 until July 2014. The early sessions (March to June 2013) covered assessment and knowledge building, and following (November 2013 to February 2014), thematic discussions took place. The final sessions (March to July 2014) centered on debate, discussion, and finalization of the OWG report. The Report of the OWG was agreed by acclamation on July 19, 2014, which contained the SDGs.

Following the lengthy OWG process, the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations took place from January 19 to August 2, 2015 with all Member States and thus more comprehensive. The SDGs were not re-opened for negotiations. On August 2, 2015 “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” was agreed by consensus by Member States, this document, with minor changes, became the final document (Agenda 2030) officially adopted in September.

Looking ahead

Positively, persons with disabilities are strongly included in Agenda 2030 with 11 references, seven of which are in the SDGs. Read here for details. Currently, persons with disabilities are also included in four proposed global indicators: (1) Poverty Eradication Indicator 1.3.1, (2) Employment Indicator 8.5.2, (3) Education Indicator 4.5.1, and (4) Peaceful and Inclusive Societies Indicator 16.7.1. Furthermore, the chapeau (introduction) of the final IAEG Report will contain statement on disaggregation of data that includes disability: “SDG indicators should be disaggregated where relevant by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability and geographic location, or other characteristics, in accordance with the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.” For additional details, read more here.

Now the focus of implementation must turn to national and regional contexts. Ministries and government will begin to focus on and implement the SDGs, especially those they consider national priority areas. Consequently, to ensure that persons with disabilities are included in this process, it is important to:

  • Push for the disaggregation of data by disability (in line with international standards) in national surveys to be used for the implementation and monitoring of Agenda 2030.
  • Create linkages between implementation and monitoring of Agenda 2030 in the global, regional, national, and local contexts linked to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This is key as the UNCRPD is legally binding and Agenda 2030 is voluntary.
  • Support DPOs and persons with disabilities as leaders and active participants in implementation and monitoring.
  • Identify key strategic partners for lobbying local and national governments.
  • Work as a networks, coalitions, and alliances with a unified message.

It is time to learn from our partners at regional, national, and local levels, as Agenda 2030 now will center on these areas. We must link the global processes to all levels and ensure that information is shared both ways.

Stay tuned in the next months for updates on the roadmap of the global implementation of Agenda 2030.

Related Blogs

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is officially adopted!

Agenda 2030 and Persons with Disabilities: A Closer Look