Eight hundred students from Trinity Grammar School, Sydney aged from five to 12 stopped speaking and remained silent – some for the entire school day. The students took part in Day Without Speech, a programme which raises funds to bring speech therapy to Cambodians.

“More than 600,000 or one in 25 people in Cambodia, many of them children, have a speaking or swallowing disability, which impacts them physically, mentally and socially. They don’t get the help they need because there are no Cambodian speech therapists, no government policies addressing the issue, and limited knowledge about speech therapy practises,” said physiotherapist and Sydney native, Mr Weh Yeoh who founded OIC Cambodia, which runs the programme. 

“Many children around the world face difficulties simply because they cannot communicate – a social problem rarely encountered in developed countries. In Cambodia, children with a disability are often excluded from school, which has a huge impact on their future prospects,” continued Weh.

The funds raised from the challenge will support OIC Cambodia’s work to establish speech therapy as a profession in Cambodia. Based in Phnom Penh, OIC’s aim is to make speech therapy available to all who need it in Cambodia. The organisation has a 14 year plan, including an exit strategy, after which OIC will leave Cambodia. The exit point represents the point at which it is hoped 100 Cambodian speech therapists will be employed by the government by 2030.

“Many children around the world face difficulties simply because they cannot communicate – a social problem rarely encountered in developed countries

By participating in the challenge, students learnt valuable lessons about the value of communication and developed gratitude and empathy for those with special needs. It also provided them scope to explore their creativity in finding ways to communicate without using their voice and taught them mindfulness. As Trinity students stayed silent for the event and couldn’t speak, they used hand gestures, facial expressions, writing and even technology to communicate.

When the boys got their voices back, OIC volunteers helped school staff and students to reflect on their experience. They discussed the impact on those with communication difficulties, and learned about communication methods that can better include those with difficulties and disabilities, promoting a more inclusive school environment.

This is the second year that Trinity Grammar School students have taken up the Day Without Speech challenge and have so far raised around $18,000 overall.

“The feedback from students and staff was positive, with staff saying that it enhanced learning in some ways, with students having to work more independently,” said Trinity Grammar School Teacher, Mr Craig Hassall.

Trinity boys summed up their aim on the school’s fundraising page: “By taking part in Day Without Speech, we are standing for a world where children with communication and swallowing disabilities can live full and happy lives.”

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