The Stars Foundation has announced that Krousar Thmey (New Family) are the 2013 Impact Award Winner for Education in Asia-Pacific.

The announcement was made to coincide with World Disability Day which is today.

Krousar Thmey is the only Cambodian organisation that offers a comprehensive special education programme for deaf or blind children and encourages their integration into wider society.

When conflict-scarred Cambodia emerged from the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, there were no formal structures in place to educate the country’s deaf or blind children.

And although Cambodia has enjoyed relatively rapid development in the past three decades, the country remains poor with its education system severely limited.

This leaves an estimated one million people with disabilities – 250,000 of whom are deaf or hard of hearing and 170,000 who are blind or visually impaired – at a permanent disadvantage, excluded from the national school system and wider society.

The charity operates in 14 provinces across Cambodia, running five special schools to meet the needs of deaf or blind children from kindergarten through to high school and 36 integrated classes in rural areas.

Grade 11 student Sem Sophaleng lost his eye sight to untreated measles in 1996. Now, in his seventh year at Krousar Thmey’s school for deaf and blind children he remarks: ‘Krousar Thmey has literally changed my life and attitude towards blindness. Here, I have access to the same curriculum offered to non-disabled children. I have friends - both inside and outside.’ Krousar Thmey welcomes hundreds of pupils to its Khmer arts and culture school each year, introducing the children to traditional dance, drawing, music, sculpture and shadow theatre.

Sem volunteers on a Krousar Thmey awareness raising exhibition called “Seeing in the Dark”, allowing visitors to experience 15 minutes of complete darkness.

The organisation’s academic and career counselling department also help young adults to access higher education, training, apprenticeships and employment.

Many former students have gone on to university or found permanent employment.

Braille workshops and sign language committees adapt learning resources for universities and Krousar Thmey has successfully introduced live signing to national TV news broadcasts.

In 2012 alone, almost 1,000 deaf or blind children enrolled in the organisation’s Special Education programme. And Krousar Thmey works with over 2,500 children and their families each year.

Provisional plans for the Impact Award include continuing to support the Special Education programme for deaf or blind children.