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As we come to the end of 2016, there is a whole heap for us to reflect on. Globally, 2016 has been an unprecedented year of change. At OIC Cambodia, it’s been much of the same.

In the coming years, we’ll look back at 2016 fondly. It was a tough year, we fought hard, and made some mistakes too. But on balance, 2016 was a year when OIC took huge steps towards no longer being no longer a baby. In 2016, we learnt to walk.

As the oldest OIC team member (in terms of experience, not wrinkles), here are my highlights from the year.

OIC’s exit strategy

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I never wanted OIC to stay in Cambodia forever. Nor do we want to keep asking donors for support year on year. As important as knowing what to do is knowing when you’re going to stop doing it.

This is why our exit strategy is vital.

We want to see 100 speech therapists employed by the Cambodian government by 2030.

At this point, OIC will dissolve, and the issue of speech therapy will be in the hands of the people who matter the most – the Cambodian people.

100 speech therapists are not enough to reach the whole country. But given all of the things that we’ll have established by then – university courses, government policy, awareness, job creation, evidence base – we expect the profession to grow until we reach our vision.

Every child in Cambodia who needs speech therapy is able to receive it.

Not only do we have an idea of how we’re going to get there, we also have estimates for how much we’ll need to spend before 2030. We can then work out how much it will cost to affect one life.

As of now, we estimate that we can reach one person through our work by 2030 for 18 USD.

This is not only clarity, it represents incredible value for money.

My own exit strategy

I am not only the founder of OIC, but also fairly extroverted, confidently spoken, and reasonably articulate. I’m also quite tall, and male.

All of these factors mean that in any group discussion, no matter how hard we try to level the playing field, chances are that my opinion will be heard over others.

Not having grown up in Cambodia, and not understanding the Cambodian context, my opinions are no more valid than anyone else’s.

Fundamentally, I believe that the Cambodian people need to own the solutions to the problems that their country is facing. And by remaining in country as OIC’s leader, I don’t help facilitate any of these things happening.

As such, in January 2016, I set up my own plan to hand over the leadership role to a Cambodian person.

After 150 CVs, over 25 interviews, and more than half a year, we found someone who fit the bill.

Pisey Souen, who I have worked with since May this year, continues to inspire and reassure us that we’ve made the right decision.

In Cambodia (and globally), very few women get opportunities in leadership, which is why Pisey’s gender is an added bonus.

Pisey in action, training teachers to include children with communication difficulties in the classroom

She’ll take over the reins in April 2017.

We doubled our staff and added countless volunteers

On top of our existing team of superstars and Pisey, we added Claire Salter, our first staff speech therapist, and Sam Kendall, our fundraising development manager. I’m delighted to see these new staff members shaping the direction of OIC.

Not only are they competent, hard working, and full of ideas – they get the “OIC way” of doing things.

We also added a whole bunch of new volunteers in country, in Australia, and in the United States.

At last count, we have over 50 active volunteers working with OIC, which truly goes to show that OIC is primarily a volunteer organisation.

From left to right: Philip, Weh, Socheat, Cat, Pisey and Sam – just some of the wonderful OIC team

How we do what we do – the OIC way

It’s so important that OIC is not just full of good ideas and intentions. We also need to execute our work efficiently and effectively.

This is why some of the things we’ve established in 2016 are crucial to us achieving our goals.

These include:

  • Our cultural manifesto – guidelines on how we work together
  • We make all decisions not by hierarchy, but by consensus – meaning everyone must be on board before we proceed
  • Our Work On Anything (WOA) days – special days where we block all meetings, phone calls and email, and instead work on creative projects to help us function better
  • Our conflict resolution policy
  • Our cultural awareness guidelines
  • Our hiring policy – where we preferentially hire Cambodian staff
  • Our recruitment policy which focuses on tasks and whether the applicant can do the job, rather than their experience and ability to answer interview questions coherently
  • Our internal communications policy – which bans the use of Facebook and Whatsapp to contact colleagues about work issues, and puts limits on out-of-hours communication
  • Our child protection policy – where we ban visitors to our partner sites from posting identifiable photos of kids to their social media

I could go on and on.

2016 has been crucial for internal structure at OIC. Without this, our commitment to every child who needs speech therapy becomes just lip service.

Happy Kids Clinic

A major project in 2016 was the establishment of Happy Kids Clinic. In partnership with Khema International Polyclinic, a Cambodian-run hospital in the centre of Phnom Penh, we opened the first multidisciplinary child-focussed clinic – with profits contributing to further the work of OIC.

Through Happy Kids, we have taken on board 5 new staff, 3 new therapy volunteers, and already had over 100 consultations in just a few months.

As important as the profit from this clinic are the benefits for OIC.

Every time we advertise Happy Kids Clinic, we raise awareness of speech therapy in country. When we develop an assessment tool for the clinic, it can also be used through OIC. As we train local staff through our clinic, we’re also following through with our commitment to train local people.

Finally, we’re also identifying people who understand the urgent need for speech therapy. And these are people who could help us explain the urgent need for speech therapy to important government officials in country.

Claire Salter, our speech therapist from Australia

I believe Happy Kids Clinic is a game-changer for OIC, and will help us to accelerate so much of our work.

Day Without Speech

What started as a good idea a number of years ago became a reality in 2016, with Trinity Grammar School in Sydney, Australia, becoming the first school on board.

Day Without Speech is a simple concept – it invites children in schools to give up talking for a period of time, experience what it’s like to have a communication difficulty, and then debrief on their experiences with speech therapy volunteers. They also set up fundraising pages and raise much needed funds for OIC.

In 2016, 9 schools in Cambodia, Singapore and Australia ran Day Without Speech and raised over $28,000 for OIC.

As importantly, the learning experience for the children themselves was crucial. They not only learnt about communication, Cambodia and OIC, they also learnt about mindfulness, empathy, inclusion and bullying.

We ended the year with another branch of Day Without Speech – the Personal Challenge. Starting with the OIC team, we gave up speech for 24 hours and raised over $8,000 in the process.

We also learnt invaluable lessons on what it’s like to not be able to communicate the usual ways.

Boys from Trinity Grammar School go silent in February 2016

Teacher training

Over 4 months, in 6 provinces, our hardworking team trained 180 teachers, as well as multiple non-profit staff and local Ministry of Education professionals. The three day training helped teachers include children with communication difficulties into their classrooms. This year alone, these teachers will work with around 6,000 children.

An independent evaluation of this training will help us to improve it year on year, so that our impact grows.

Socheat working with teachers in Phnom Penh

We also laid the foundation for future university courses, developed advocacy strategies for government, raised awareness on TV and radio, and talked with countless government, United Nations and charity officials on the importance of speech therapy.

There has been so much to be proud of in 2016 for the OIC team. From the supporters who gave $10 to our crowdfunding campaigns, the volunteers based in Australia, the US or in Europe, to our advisors and partners in Cambodia, to the committed staff and volunteers in country, to my own mentors and advisors.

We should look back at 2016 as a year where, as a group, we learnt to walk. Next year, 2017, promises to be an even better year – where we will go from walking to a canter and then perhaps even to a full gallop.

I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings for the OIC team.

Thank you so much for your continued support of our work, and let’s keep going!

Want to help?

Introduce a school to do Day Without Speech, come and volunteer with us, give up your birthday to support OIC, or become a regular supporter!

With Ling, months after he managed to go to school for the first time.
With Ling, months after he managed to go to school for the first time.

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