Pen Chanratana, 32, was born with full fitness like other children. Five months after birth, she had a strong fever that caused her legs to be paralyzed for the rest of her life.

Handicraft artisans, mostly disabled, sew ornaments
Handicraft artisans, mostly disabled, sew ornaments at the Watthan Artisans Cambodia in Phnom Penh.

“Sometimes, I want to commit suicide. I am disabled. I could do nothing,” she said.

As she grew up, Pen has struggled to live despite her condition, believing that it  might come from her bad karma. Her parents commiserated her.

She was discriminated at school and in their neighborhood.  Some parents kept their children away from her, as they were afraid of contagion. With both physical and psychological pressure, Pen decided to quit schooling.

PEN Chanratana is walking on her knees.
PEN Chanratana is walking on her knees.

The eldest daughter among four siblings, Pen attended up to Grade 5, as her parents didn’t have much time sending her to the primary school in Kampong Chhnang province, the northern part of Phnom Penh.

Without a wheelchair, she had to get on a coconut leaf, pulled by her elder cousin to attend her classes.

PEN Chanratana
PEN Chanratana.

“When my elder cousin is happy, he sends me to school, but sometimes he’s not. I  regret to quit my study. My legs are useless, also, my brain is low educated,” said Pen.

Nothing changed much in her life till 2009, when she joined a one-year training with Watthan,  an artisans handicraft shop. Since then, she was able earn wage to support herself.

Pen still needed help to move near her workplace, 10 kilometers from her house.

She saved money for three years to buy the three-wheel motorcycle, which is designed specially for the disabled. Now, she could travel to every place she wished.

“First, they look down on me. Now, they praise me. I can work; I can earn, unlike some people without disabilities, who are unemployed,” she said.

Her biggest challenges were when she wanted to visit the supermarket and other places that do not have ramps. She needs to be cradled, if she attempted to go there.

A new era of her life unfolded.

The woman , who lost hope to build  a family because of poliomyelitis, got married at 31 in April last year with her her loyal friend, Sum Chakrya, for over 10 years. . They have known each other since they both attended a vocational training organized by a non-government organization in Phnom Penh.

“He loves me because he sees me as disable, but I strive,” said Pen.

Beyond her artisan skill, Pen could do all the house works such as cooking and cleaning, except taking things above her head.

She has somehow managed to move forward from her experiences and internalizes them for the future goals. Later, when she did not have enough energy to go to the workshop, she would ask her employer to bring the materials to her house. Sewing those ornaments and handicraft products at home, she is being compensated based on her work percentage.

About the author – LeanghortSok


Leanghort Sok (Vephea) is a Hinrich Global Trade Leader Scholar. He got a full scholarship for Master of Arts in International Journalism Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University in 2015.

He is currently a Sales Coordinator for Export Assistance Program Cambodia, undertaking a one year extended internship as part of the Work Integrated Learning program of the Hinrich Foundation. His internship will help better prepare him for a trade-related career in Cambodia after graduation.

Formerly a News Reporter for Cambodian News Channel (CNC TV), Leanghort also worked as a staff member at the Cambodian Mekong Bank.