Blind scholar pursues MA in Oz

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Min Chinda and her daughter pose for photo at a garden in Adelaide, South Australia where she is working on her Master’s degree at Flinders University. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Min Chinda, 33, was born in Kampong Chamloang commune’s Tbong Damrey village of Kandal province’s Khsach Kandal district and attended school like the village’s other children at a primary school there.

By grade 4, Chinda began to have vision problems. At first it was just poor eyesight but then it worsened until the ophthalmologist said she had serious eye problems and would go blind, but her mother didn’t believe what the doctor said.

“When I was in grade 6, my vision got weaker and weaker so that each time I copied a lesson from the whiteboard I had to move closer to it and to write it down in my book letter by letter,” she said.

Chinda’s family soon had to face facts about what was happening to her and send her to learn how to read braille and continue her schooling using the touch-based system of reading raised bumps on the page.

Today, Chinda has a daughter with her husband, who is also visually impaired. They were married in 2018. Chinda herself is back in school pursuing a Master’s degree in policy and practice at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, through the Australia Awards Cambodia scholarships programme.

Chinda went through many stages of examinations just like the other students and without any exemptions for her as a student with a disability.

“I was so excited each time I passed from one stage to another,” she said.

Chinda said she remembers that there were about 500 candidates at the time of the exam during the 2020 academic year. However, due to the spread of the Covid-19 crisis, the departure for studying in Australia was suspended until 2022.

Australia Awards Cambodia’s Facebook page posted a video of Chinda studying for her Master’s degree in Australia on the occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The Facebook page of the Australian government scholarship programme for outstanding international students said they were pleased to hear her speak about her educational journey and the ongoing support she has received through her Australia Awards Scholarship.

“Women and people with disabilities – especially those living outside Phnom Penh – are groups in Cambodian society who have typically experienced the effects of social, educational and structural disadvantages which have limited their access to opportunities, including accessing scholarships,” the post added.

According to Australia Awards Cambodia, more than 1,000 Cambodians like Chinda have benefited from the Australian government’s scholarships since the 1970s.

Chinda brought her baby girl with her to Australia and is spending time taking care of her baby and studying and the fact that she is blind isn’t slowing her down these days.

“Taking the opportunity to study abroad, I also want my daughter to know and understand about living in Australia by seeing a new world. And besides, I would miss her too much. I want her to feel the warm affection from her mother. So, I am willing to bear the burden of bringing her with me. I have a babysitter who looks after her when I go to class,” Chinda told The Post.

Chinda said she is enjoying her time in Australia because there is less stigma surrounding people with disabilities there and she finds it easier to study and to take part in social activities because people are more accommodating.

The Australian student babysitting Chinda’s 13-month-old daughter said that Australians were very focused on equal rights, regardless of whether a person is rich or poor or disabled or able-bodied, so the people there encourage people with disabilities and try to make it easier for them to get the same education and opportunities as people without disabilities.

Initially, Chinda said she was guided while travelling from home to school which is about a 2 km distance.

“Even though the road conditions in some places are not even and I need to walk up and down some stairs, it is still easier than at home. There are standard road crossings for people with disabilities and I am not as worried about traffic issues as I walk through the pedestrian crosswalks, where all vehicles must stop,” she said.

It is the same at her university where they have arranged signs identifying buildings and streets with braille writing on them. She said that whenever she stops in one place for very long, people always come over to ask her if she needs assistance getting anywhere.

The Facebook page of the Australia Awards at Flinders University, which offered scholarships to 45 international students, wrote on the Australian embassy in Cambodia’s page praising Chinda’s video:

“It’s a great video about daily life and Chinda’s studies. We appreciate her presence at Flinders University and look forward to her success over the next semester. Thanks to Australia Awards Cambodia for producing this video,” the post said.

Thinking back to her past when people in Cambodia told her to go out with a loudspeaker and sing for money on the streets, Chinda laughed at the thought of it and the idea that people with disabilities aren’t good for anything beyond that.

“I don’t know how to sing! So I think I’d better keep working on my Master’s instead,” she said.

She mentioned her husband, who is also blind, and noted that he was very reluctant to go into crowded places alone because he was afraid people would give him money as if he was a beggar.

A former student of psychology at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Chinda said that she chose this scholarship and degree programme because it studies issues like mental health and people who face adversity and problems – something she’s dealt with her whole life.

While studying at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, she volunteered with the organization to help other people with disabilities despite the fact that she was so poor that she was staying at the pagoda in order to continue her education.

Chinda already has a position as a civil servant at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation and after graduating with a Master’s degree in Australia in mid-April 2024, she will return to work at the ministry as normal, except now she will be qualified for higher promotion.

“I will use the knowledge I have learned from Australia to help develop our society as much as I can. I will also take time to participate in other programmes that promote the well-being of people with disabilities,” she said.