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Massage Offers Blind Cambodians Way Out of Poverty


Blind people in Cambodia face an uphill struggle. Discrimination against the blind is widespread and educational employment opportunities are few and far between. One way out of their predicament is working as a masseuse. "Seeing hands" massage shops in Cambodia offer employment and educational opportunities to the blind while at the same time offering visitors an ideal way to relax.

Cambodia has one of the largest rates of blind people in the world. There are about 144,000 blind people in the country representing 1.25 percent of the population according to the Association of the Blind.

Cambodia poor health care system means that common diseases like chicken pox and measles leave many people blind. Traffic accidents, and accidents with unexploded bombs left over from three decades of conflict, are other leading causes.

For the blind in Cambodia, educational and employment opportunities are few and far between.

Boun Mao, the Director of the Association of the Blind in Cambodia (ABC), lost his sight in 1993 when robbers threw acid in his face. He says that discrimination against the blind is widespread in Cambodia.

Boun Mao: "People here believe in Karma. They think that you are punished in this life for the bad things you did in a past life. Because of that there is a lot of discrimination against the blind in this society. There is even discrimination against the blind within the family.”

One of the few opportunities that blind people have to earn a living is as a masseur. About a dozen so-called "seeing-hands" massage shops have opened in Phnom Penh in recent years. Blind massage shops are run on a cooperative basis. About half of the profits go to salaries with the rest reinvested in the employees, teaching them life skills such as learning computers and reading brail. By offering the blind an opportunity to earn a living they are able to regain their independence and self respect .

Landmine survivor So Pary says that becoming a masseur changed his life.

So Pary: "I was blinded while I was planting rice and I hit a landmine with my hoe. After that my family picked on me a lot because I couldn't do any work. Something had to change and then this organisation taught me massage and now I'm happy because I can work again and help my family.”

Many customers say that blind masseuses are better because they have a better sense of touch. Harriet Pegden and Tony Rice from London, England enjoyed the experience.

Tony Rice: "Well I'd recommend a blind massage to anyone really. It's intense, accurate - they found a weak a weak spot I've got and it's a really good thing for people to come and do when they're in Cambodia.”

Harriet Pegden: "Because they're more sensitive with their hands because I suppose, being blind you spend most of your time feeling around the world and you have a more accurate kind of sense - they feel muscles more intensely.”

A massage at a "Seeing Hands" massage shop typically cost about $5 for one hour but with fewer tourists around these days, better deals are often available. So as well as good value for money, having a blind massage allows you to feel great while at the same time helping some of Cambodia’s most vulnerable people.

This report was provided by APTN.