The Hope Community Centre was still an orphanage in the days when Ry Ra arrived wearing leg calipers. It was a really hard start to life for a kid desperate to keep up and fit in. He became conscious of walking differently from the other boys, had to stop playing his beloved soccer and found it difficult to socialise.
Life wasn’t looking too bright when he returned to his village to live under his grandmother’s ramshackle house with his aunt and uncle after HOPE reintegrated its residential care back into the community – but it turned out he had a few things going for him. First, HOPE now funded a trial of new lightweight, plastic clip-on calipers that markedly increased his mobility, could be adapted to the evolving contours of his legs, and did not need to be worn all the time.
Ry Ra is a bright and hardworking student at the local secondary school, and when we visit him in his living space beneath his grandma’s house and ask him what career he wants to follow he confirms he still has his sights set on becoming a mobile phone mechanic. Any quarter hour drive past the ubiquitous mobile shops of downtown Battambang reveals he’s onto a winner if he does. HOPE currently supports Ry Ra with food, school uniforms and money for necessities, and if he stays firm in his choice HOPE would dearly love to support him to learn the skills to become self-sufficient by working as mobile phone mechanic.
When we ask Ry Ra why he was drawn to mobile phones, the answer is revealing: mobile phones help him contact his aunt and uncle. Orphan Ry Ra has developed an extremely close bond since living with them after leaving HOPE. He says the exciting thing about moving to live with them after his time at the HOPE Community Centre is that for the first time in his life he can “live like a family”. He relishes being able to go to high school supported by HOPE and the time he now spends helping his uncle and aunt with farming. “It’s a comfortable feeling with family,” he says.
Ry Ra says his legs are growing stronger and straighter with the new calipers, with HOPE’s Nurse Khem driving him to Battambang Hospital twice a month for exercises in the spinal unit where he can also talk to similarly affected people.
The new calipers also allow him to do more work for the family, and he hopes to use the plot of land surrounding the family home to grow vegetables for sale. And one day… he really hopes to play soccer once again.