Never Fall Down
Promoting the quality and growth of therapeutic services in Cambodia.
By Patricia McCormick | Reviewed by Susan Nowell, PT, DPT
On April 17, 1975, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, otherwise known as the Khmer Rouge, took control of Cambodia, forcing over a million people to evacuate Phnom Penh and return to the countryside in a radical effort to instate a classless, primarily agrarian society. Khmer Rouge radicalization resulted in the brutal deprivation of basic human rights and the death of two million. Never Fall Down is a historical account of the afflictions facing the young Arn Chorn-Pond as he survived oppression and escaped death during the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia.
The book, ghostwritten by Patricia McCormick, captures the atrocities of the period and the vulnerabilities of the young Cambodian as he is taken from innocent boyhood and his beloved family and put to work in the fields. Under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, he is forced to work laboriously in the heat as he witnesses others dying from hunger, malaria, and exhaustion. In the midst of this massive genocide, the repercussions of the Vietnam War in Cambodia, Arn masters music to save his life.
Never having played a musical note in his life, he learns quickly when the Khmer Rouge soldiers demand music from the children in his camp. As Arn’s musical mastery saves his life, he learns to hide food from Khmer Rouge soldiers to save the lives of other children. The novel follows Arn’s survival as a child of war in the heart of the “Killing Fields” to the beginning of his adult missions as a man of peace.
Arn Chorn-Pond has since dedicated his life to humanitarian causes. He is the founder of the Cambodian Living Arts, a group that helps preserve the traditional arts of Cambodia, pairing marginalized children and adolescents with the few master musicians who had survived the Khmer Rouge. He also established Cambodia Volunteers for Community Development, an organization that provides education, job skills, and computer skills to children, farmers, and victims of war.
Elizabeth Chafcouloff, MS, CCC-SLP, director, president, chief executive officer, and founder of Speech Therapy Cambodia, credits the story of Arn Chorn-Pond as a primary catalyst for her own journey to found Speech Therapy Cambodia, a nonprofit organization in Phnom Penh. Inspired by a connection to the Cambodian Living Arts community, she first traveled to Cambodia in 2008. Ideas of doing volunteer speech therapy work were immediately born. In subsequent years, she sent multitudes of emails seeking information about speech therapy in Cambodia and where she could contribute her services. Emails resulted in one primary conclusion: There was no established speech therapy in the country. Through further networking efforts, Elizabeth finally came in contact with a Cambodian nurse in a government hospital, whereupon she was able to organize a reconnaissance trip in 2013 to meet with hospital contacts. Shortly thereafter, she received an email invite from the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital “deputy director” to speak about opportunities to work in the hospital. Her first meeting with him was to take place in early 2014. In the meantime, Elizabeth incorporated Speech Therapy Cambodia as a nonprofit in the fall of 2013. After her meeting with the deputy director, she met with the director of neurology; the following day she had four students (three neurologists and one physical therapist) shadowing her while she conducted bedside oromotor/pharyngeal assessments and swallowing evaluations. Four days later, she was leading four classes per week (primarily for neurologists) while simultaneously doing bedside speech therapy treatments. The Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital embraced her services as the extreme need for speech therapy services, especially for stroke patients, was evident. Since its official inception, the organization has grown steadily and effected many positive changes in Phnom Penh. Now comprised of four board members and two volunteers, the group works closely with two major hospitals in the area, conducting speech therapy evaluations and treatments and hosting lectures for neurologists and physical therapists.
As of January 2015, the Non-Government Organization (NGO) started training and certifying staff physical therapists to evaluate and treat swallowing problems. This is a crucial step for the hospitals as a majority of their patients were previously going untreated with regard to speech and swallowing disorders. Speech Therapy Cambodia continues to fulfill its mission to build an organization to help Cambodians overcome speech, language, and swallowing difficulties and to train their health care specialists and families in effective therapeutic techniques. Exciting developments are under way for 2016: In collaboration with Susan Langmore, the woman who developed the Fiberoptic Endoscoptic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES), Speech Therapy Cambodia will implement the use of instrumentation for swallowing evaluations.
Since speech therapy remains an unrecognized profession in Cambodia, therapeutic speech interventions are currently carried out by trained physical therapists. Yet another noble mission of Speech Therapy Cambodia is to partner with other organizations to promote the education and certification of Cambodian speech-language pathologists.
The stories of Arn Chorn-Pond and Speech Therapy Cambodia provide wonderful examples of overcoming obstacles to succeed in promoting positive change for those in need. Furthermore, they serve as reminders of the many hats physical therapists wear—both in and beyond the United States—and of the global impact we all possess as health care providers.