Friday, 15 February 2013

Dying for an Education

Phal, in his school uniform, in January 2013
At least a million school-age children are seriously injured or killed every year. More are denied an education when family income is suddenly and dramatically reduced as a result of road injuries or fatalities to a parent or other breadwinner. At a policy meeting hosted by the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution this week we asked the question - why, when the data is so stark, the need so great, and cost-effective solutions are waiting to be implemented, why is child and adlosecent injury on the road still so neglected?

The same question was asked by the mother of seven year old Phal. We met Phal, who lives near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2011 when we were making a documentary for the launch of the Decade of Action. His story, as we told it then, is sad and all too common. A precociously bright little boy, he wanted to go to school as soon as he could. Enrolled at age five, he was hit by a car while walking along the road between his home and the school (there was no sidewalk). He suffered some brain damage and other injuries as a result of the crash and lost the use of his legs.

Last month we went back to see how Phal, his mother Sok Chin Da, and his family are getting on. Returning to their simple home, reached by a dusty embankment off a road busy with a constant stream of construction trucks, the first thing to strike me was the continued absence of any sidewalk or separated verge, or any speed or school signs to warn the drivers that children might be around. The second was the big smile with which Phal greeted us.

Phal, now seven, is back in school. He likes music best (banging the drum) and wants to learn English. His mother has to push him to school in his wheelchair, because of the constant care he needs she hasn't been able to go back to work. The family income, already small, has further diminished. Phal practices walking for an hour a day on rudimentary parallel bars. His legs are somewhat stronger than two years ago, but it is clear that he will not be able to walk unaided. His mother worries about the future, as he grows too big for her to carry.

Sok Chin Da feels deserted by the authorities. The local traffic police chief, used to picking up the broken pieces of people's lives from the side of the road, is in her corner (and introduced us). But her requests to the road authorities for protection for other children in the area, for something as simple and cheap as a speed warning sign, have gone unanswered.

There are thousands of children like Phal who have similar, sad, stories. But their disabilities or early deaths are preventable. And you can do something right now to help prevent them. Campaign with us on the Long Short Walk, help us to support our partners who are working in local communities to provide safe routes to school and tackle other causes of road injury. And start by watching our new film, below, 'Dying for an Education'.

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