We have had a very exciting year 2013. I will try to recap for you in this newsletter. Please look at us on Facebook as Sobbhana Daycare Center with lots of pictures.
Barbara and I were able to visit early in the year. It was quite successful because we were able to start several new projects. We initiated an adult literacy program in partnership with Heifer International. At present there are 8 people in the class taught by Sreynith one of our teachers. They study from 1-4 every weekend. We started this program due to the request we had from some of the mothers of our children. The one thing they wanted to improve their lives was to learn to read and write. We feel strongly that if we help to educate the parents we strengthen our ties with our community and improve the lives of our children and their siblings.
We investigated the bee project further. We traveled to a local bee farm and spoke with the beekeeper. He was willing to provide hives and bees as well as education for our families and continued support through monthly visits. We are looking into the best way to sell our honey, possibly build our own hives, and raise the funds to start with our Center and 10 families. The local honey is dark and has a strong flavor. Hopefully this year we will be able to raise the funds to begin.
We were able to take the staff their children and Somphlou to the circus in Battambang. Phare Ponleu Selpak is an NGO which gives youths from deprived backgrounds the opportunity to channel their energies into learning circus skills such as juggling, clowning and acrobatics while raising awareness of issues such as HIV/AIDS, landmines and child rights. It started in 1986 in the refugee camps on the Thai border. Their website: http://www.phareps.org/ I highly recommend a visit if you happen to be in Cambodia. We all had fun! We took 2 tuk tuk’s to get there- racing each other down the street!
We were able to spend time organizing the storage space at the school. Usually we also give a workshop for the teachers and this time we emphasized creativity using games and other forms of play. We were able to send our Director, Chamroeun to Siem Reap to observe another preschool run by Caring for Cambodia. The Cambodia department of education sent instructors to spend a week with our teachers at the Center specifically focusing on preschool curricula.
We hosted a local musician Master Mik and his students for a performance for the children. This is the website for the local NGO http://www.marioninstitute.org/cambodian-living-arts/about-cambodian-living-arts Master Mik survived the Khmer Rouge genocide because of his talent. The Masters- these men and women hold thousands of years of traditional knowledge in their hands, bodies, and voices. They are the living cultural treasures of Cambodia. We wanted to expose the children and their parents to local culture. Some of the children participated with the students on the drums (with help of course).
My wonderful friend Monika Suorn a pediatric dentist was able to come and see our children. She and her volunteers spent 2 days with us. It is so important to receive dental attention early. Some of our children already have rotting teeth. She was able to talk with the parents and children about dental hygiene and prevention of caries including what foods to avoid. She also was kind enough to see one of our staff, Meak Hum who was complaining of sore teeth which required a trip to Phnom Penh to Monika’s clinic.
We have been blessed by having some great volunteers this year. Karl, Marcus, and Alejandra are professional photographers who came in July and took pictures of the Center and our children and staff. Pictures do truly tell our story as you can see by the ones we have included here. Our website will have more of the pictures and the movies they took. A great big thank you to all of them for their generosity!
Deborah Eaton-Kent was our next visitor. She is a true dynamo from Canada. She spent a month with the Center and concentrated on teaching the teachers English and also giving classes on educating preschoolers with lots of teaching tips and materials. The staff fell in love with her and she has maintained a relationship with them. She sponsors one of our teachers, Khoeun Chhai for English lessons, and continues to sponsor Somphlou for food and clothing. Somphlou’s parents died of AIDS and she is HIV +. She is now 14 and lives near the Center with her aunties. She gets medicine regularly, goes to school and afterwards is often found at the Center helping out. Her living conditions are very poor so Deborah’s assistance is very important for her.
Nicoleta Salajan came in August for a few weeks. She started a “kitchen garden” planting some vegetables and fruit trees. She also helped with English classes and worked with the children adding to their daily lessons. We hope to continue with volunteers as they have added greatly to our program. Even if you can’t travel to Cambodia we are always looking for volunteers willing to work with us on our website and assist with fundraising in all capacities including grant writing.
We have some special thank you’s to add. Friends of Alejandra’s, Ellen and Jamie design jewelry in Bangkok and have designed a beautiful gold Cambodian pendant. They are going to donate $100 from the profits of the sale of this pendant to us! They have a store on Etsy- Asia Gem Connection and a website: http://asiagemconnection.com/2013/04/10/cambodia-pendant/ Please take a look!
We have maintained a relationship with Emily Teng who runs Blessings in a Bag in Singapore. She was able to send us a donation of clothes, bags, towels, and some school supplies. Some of the clothes and items we were not able to use were distributed in the villages to our families and their neighbors. http://blessingsinabag.org/
We received our first package of school supplies from http://packforapurpose.org/. This is a new partnership for us this year. They encourage travelers to bring donated items to specific drop off sites for NGO’s in the area they are visiting. We also partnered with Phka Villa a B & B in Battambang as a drop off site. They are a wonderful small hotel with a very friendly staff. We always stay there. Here is their website with the pack for a purpose logo for us- http://phkavilla.com/
We also must thank our long time sponsors the National Honor Society at Singapore American School, and the US Navy Chapel in Sembawang, Singapore. They have been great consistent donors. We appreciate their continuing support! We also want to thank Rose Charities Canada & New York for their help with our financial transactions.
We are most grateful for our primary donor this year Tay Yiang Ping from Singapore. She stepped in and offered to support us through February 2014. It would have been difficult to continue without her consistent support this year. This allowed us to do repairs, special projects, the graduation and holiday parties, and buy the needed electronic equipment. THANK YOU!
We have added two new board members. Sotia Hok who works with the Handa Foundation in Battambang, and Nikki Singer a former volunteer for us who is presently completing her master’s degree with a study abroad in Cambodia.
As usual we have a wish list for next year. This includes new playground equipment, building repairs including painting the exterior and fixing the kitchen roof, a new toilet, more teaching materials, and as always a monetary increase for our dedicated staff. Please look to our website for our donation page.
Best Regards, Christine
Christine Wagner, Director Hearts & Hands for Cambodia
We normally write a newsletter or blog during or right after one of our trips to Cambodia. This year we are planning a trip in June however we wanted to update you on what is presently happening at the Center.
We have 75 children. Periodically new children are found to fill openings created due to graduation or from those that drop out. We have had 5 children graduate in Sept 2009. They are presently attending primary school. There are 38 boys and 37 girls at the Center. The age range is from 3-6 years old. There are 5 villages that feed into the Day Care Center and Sophal, our director is responsible for selecting new students. She chooses those that have the greatest need. That is not an easy task as most of the families live at subsistence level. Sophal makes regular visits to the children’s homes especially when they are absent from Center. It is often hard for the parents to find work especially if there is a crop failure due to weather. This year Cambodia has had heavy rains causing much flooding. Many of the parents head to the Thai border to find work to support the family leaving the children in the care of a grandparent, aunt, or even an older child.
We have 4 teachers or childminders as they are called. They are Sreineet Phata, Vutha Voron, Sameing Ann, and Sarath Ham. A day at the Center includes morning exercise, breakfast, and studies which include storytime, study of letters and numbers, art and painting, lunch, bath time, and nap time, afternoon snack and supervised play. The childminders meet every week to discuss the lesson plans for the next week. We have taught them finger plays for stories, songs, organized centers for activities, and supplied educational equipment. We hope to connect them with a local group called Caring for Cambodia that has a training program for preschool teachers. We also have a security guard/ gardener, cleaner, and a cook. Our cook, Rorn Meak has had the challenge of using IRD’s and making them tasty for the children. The Day Care qualified for a nutrition program using pre made protein packed bars (IRD’s) that need to be reconstituted and apparently taste terrible. We have been using them for the lunch program.
Every month Sophal sends us a spread sheet with a breakdown of the monthly costs. I thought it would be interesting for you to see what our expenditures are.
We spend approximately $270 for lunch and $200 for breakfast and $525 for salaries. There are always other expenditures for maintenance and incidentals as well. Our lunch has been subsidized this year also by the nutrition program.
This brings me to our dilemma. The Japanese NGO that was assisting with expenses has had to withdraw their support. Hearts & Hands is now responsible for raising the money to support the entire Day Care budget. We need your help. We have a sponsorship program in place. For less than a dollar a day you can sponsor one child for the year. We are also trying to assist the villagers to give back to the Center by helping them to earn a living by weaving and sewing accessories to be marketed in the US as well as in the tourist areas of Cambodia. Another option was to train select villagers to become bee keepers.
Unfortunately this year we will not be able to do any projects as we have in the past. Last year we were able to put in sidewalks around the main buildings and the bathing areas. Sophal has said that has been very beneficial giving the children a place to play during the rainy season as well as helping to keep the buildings free of mud. Previously we painted the buildings inside and out and now have beautiful murals on the inside making the environment more pleasant for our children. We had hopes of expanding the hours of the Center to 6 days, and adding an additional 25 children. We also had plans to use one of the buildings for a library and homework center for the children to come after school to study.
The Day Care Center has proved to be an invaluable resource for the villagers. The children get a head start for school, spend their day in a safe, happy environment, receive 2 meals a day and snack as well as learn about and practice good hygiene. Education is so important in a developing country. It is the way out of poverty. Look at our children’s smiling faces. They are the hope of the future of their country.
Chris Wagner coordinated a dental team from Healing the Children North East in Connecticut to travel to Cambodia in November 2006 to do a mobile medical mission to Battambang and Siem Reap. The team coordinated with Dr. Monika Suorn a Khmer pediatric dentist. They were able to see all 100 of the Sobbhana Day Care children. We would like to thank the team for donating their time and dental expertise. In total they were able to see to the dental needs of 800 children.
We would like to thank the dental team from Healing the Children, www.htcne.org
On December 31, 2006 there were 7 students and 2 professors from Western Connecticut State University who traveled with me to Cambodia The two professors were Darla Shaw, Professor of Education and Jeannie Hatcherson Adjunct Professor of Anthropology. The students were Jeffrey, Jason, Eric, Laura, Ariel, Katerina, and Jessica.
Darla is an expert in the field of literacy. She did teacher training for the “child minders” specifically geared to preschool education. A few of the things she did were to set up learning centers like those typically found in Montessori schools, explained the importance of attaching words to pictures and how to put this in practice, demonstrated learning games and songs, and wrote the script of the Khmer version of “Cinderella” for the children to perform. There are approximately 100 children in the Day Care ages 2-6. On the last day we invited the parents and villagers including the Chief to see the children perform. The child minders adapted the script and practiced for only a few days with a core group of children. They did a wonderful job even building a stage. The child actors wore some of the costumes that I brought in November. The rest of the children sang songs- their favorite is “Where is Thumbkin” which I taught them last year. All the children wore new outfits that we purchased for them. They looked so wonderful that the school decided to make the clothes their uniforms. All children in Asia wear uniforms to school and it helps to keep them all on the same level. Some of the children literally do not have more than one outfit and no shoes. We also purchased shoes, towels, and the students brought school and hygiene supplies to distribute. Our main project was to paint the two main buildings and do a mural on the inside walls. It was rather unrealistic to think that we could accomplish such a large task in 5 days. We did however finish painting the main building and started on the mural. The mural was sketched on paper by Jeannie Hatcherson, who was the instructor for this interim class. The artist-painter, Chanti is a former resident of SFODA an orphanage in Phnom Penh that I have had an association with for 7 years. SFODA was the first orphanage I visited in Cambodia. The students helped with the daily tasks at the Day Care Center. They played games with the children, helped with bathing, lunch, taught them some English, and helped Darla with the educational instruction. I also put them to work painting. If you read my blog on painting you can get an idea of how difficult a process it was. For many of the students this was their first experience in a developing country. Jeannie assigned each of them to interview one of the children for our sponsorship program. They were also able to go into the village and interview the parents. I think it really hit home when they saw the abject poverty these children live in. The Day Care takes children from 5 villages surrounding it so some of the children have a long way to walk, especially without shoes. The students also bonded with the children. Jeffrey volunteered to come with me to the Emergency when one of the boys fell while trying to jump on his back, hit his head and needed stitches. He wanted to be with him and he was great at keeping him calm especially since his parents weren’t there. Katerina decided to sponsor Kot, the boy she interviewed.
The children melt your heart. The students were definitely overpowered by their beautiful smiles, energy, and joy at having discovered new friends. They found themselves covered with children. Many attachments were formed
and they had no choice but to hug and play with them. Everywhere they went they had a least two children by their side or attached to them- on their shoulders in their arms or holding hands. It was a very typical sight for
me. Children are the same everywhere. They want love and attention and they need positive feedback. The Cambodian children especially are hungry for this. The Day Care is a tremendous opportunity for us to change the
lives of not only these children but of the villages where they live. I think this is what impacted the students the most. They did make a difference by brightening the lives of these children even if only for a few days. The impact is felt because their future is a little brighter and they know that someone outside their world cares about them and that gives hope. Several parents expressed their thanks after the performance. They came dressed in their best clothes and were so proud of their children. It has a ripple effect. My hope is to eventually take the Day Care and expand into other village groups. Studies have shown the importance of early education- look at the U.S. Headstart programs. We need to take these young minds and give them love, care, and knowledge so that they can become Cambodia’s future. Just looking into the children’s faces as they sit at storytime or learn a new song you can see how they soak up new knowledge. This is the main reason I keep coming back to Cambodia and continue to work hard to fundraise.
I have noticed changes at the Day Care. The Child Minders have implemented many of the suggestions I gave them for teaching. Songs, fingerplays, and story time are now part of the day. They have a medicine chest and a basic
understanding of first aid. They are learning English. Sophal speaks very well and is now teaching the others. The playground equipment we donated is used continuously.
The Director, Sophal is a wonderful woman. She gets little compensation and worked for the first two years for free. She does it because she cares about the community, and also feels strongly as I do that education is very
important to Cambodia’s future. She is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and was able to tell the students what life was like for her during that time. She has alot of plans for the center and I am trying to help raise the funds through child sponsorship.
It was another memorable trip. We hope to partner in the future and make this trip an annual one for the WCSU students.
*Thank you to WCSU for their donation of time and materials for the Day Care project.www.heartsandhandsforcambodia.org) has started a sponsorship program. It is $100 per year to sponsor a child in the center, $175 to sponsor a primary school student, and $225 to sponsor a secondary student – these are students that have graduated from the Day Care. It is very important to keep these children in school. They must pay for uniforms, school supplies, and after school tutorials. We also need donors who would like to sponsor projects. Some of our future projects include, expanding an existing building into a dining room, extending the roof to give shade and cover from the rains during rainy season, cementing part of the play and bath areas, biogas for cooking, well for water- presently they buy it and use rain water, expanding educational resources and supplies for a library.
The 2005 mission was devoted to orphanage and day care assistance, as well as coordinating a site visit for a 2006 dental/surgical mission by Healing the Children NE. Our Singaporean surgical team has planned a medical mission trip for the following May 2006.
Chris Wagner and Barbara Rinehart traveled from the USA to Singapore and they spent a few days renewing contacts and accepting donations from long- time and new supporters. They arrived at the Phnom Penh airport on Tuesday, June 7. Unfortunately their friend and trusted driver, Mr. Phan, suffered a stroke last year and was unable to drive. He is at home being taken care of by his family. He has some paralysis and difficulty with speech but his mind is still razor sharp. His son, Rambo took his place as our driver. After checking in at the Juliana Hotel, we had a tour of Roteang Village. Our tour guide was “Elephant”, a former taxi driver who now manages the village. Roteang Village cares for approximately 1000 children and the village is run by The Sharing Foundation (TSF), a USA non-profit agency that works directly with local officials, orphanages, and NGOs in Cambodia to identify and carry out projects which improve the lives of children. Some of their projects include farming, vocational training, a village school, playground and orphanage, and a clean water project, which we were particularly interested in. It had recently come to our attention that wells located 2 km from the Mekong River are contaminated with arsenic. The problem appears to be caused by natural geologic formations. This affects wells bored between 40 and 100 meters deep. Companies in Cambodia generally can not bore deeper than 50 to 70 meters. Digging shallow wells might alleviate the arsenic problem, but past experience has shown that they are prone to contamination from parasites and bacteria. American water specialist, Mickey Sampson PhD, who has been working at remediation of arsenic for a number of years in Cambodia, suggests building vast tanks for storage of rainwater, with addition of simple filtering to provide water for drinking and cooking. We are hoping that a similar system could work for SFODA orphanage and Battambang daycare, as it only costs $75.00 for an individual roof collection system to be built.
Wednesday morning we met with Princess Marie Norodom Sihanouk at her SobbhanaWomen’s Foundation. Princess Marie told us about the mobile medical clinics that her foundation operates. She has helped many poor villagers who could not afford medical care otherwise. We were also privileged to have a personal tour of the foundation’s boutique. The quality, beauty, and variety of these silk products are breathtaking. In addition, there are many items for the household, such as place settings, vases, silk flowers, silver and pottery candle holders. Other unique items include passport holders, wallets, eyeglass cases, and jewelry rolls. All of the artists are trained and sponsored by the Sobbhana Foundation. Profits go back into supplies and training, as well as providing the artists with a living wage.
On Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Greg Kaiser, an oral maxillo-facial surgeon associated with Healing the Children NE arrived for a three day site survey for a future dental mission. He and dental hygienist, Stacey Haynes, toured several hospitals. They started with a tour of Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE with Dr. Glenn Getting, Director of Emergency Medicine. Next they visited with Dr. Mok Theavny at Prei Norodom Sihanouk Hospital. We have established a good relationship with both facilities over time with our Singaporean medical mission team.
Thursday we met with the former country head of Operation Smile, Vodanny Peng. She was able to introduce us to some of the local dentists who were interested in partnering with Greg for future dental missions. We toured the facility of Dr. Chip Rithy, met with members of U.S. AID at the American Embassy as well as SOS dentist Dr. Charles Craft. Oanh Hoang was our contact at the American Embassy and she was also able to coordinate a meeting with the Deputy Chief of Mission, Mark Storell, and the Ambassador, Charles Ray as well as with Dr. Monika Suorn a Cambodian dentist who has coordinated several mobile medical dental missions. Greg and Stacey departed enthusiastic about putting together a November 2006 mobile dental mission to Battambang and Siem Reap.
Barbara and Chris left early Saturday morning by bus for the five hour trip to Battambang with Sophal Bun, director of the Sobbhana Women’s Foundation Day Care Center. Phala, his brother Rotanak and Sotea (from SFODA orphanage) joined us for the trip. We spent the first day shopping for children’s clothing for the Day Care Center. After our hot and tiring shopping trip we met with the First Deputy Governor of Battambang Province, Nhek Kim Chhun. We had a pleasant meeting, and shared our plan for supporting the day care center and surrounding village. The Governor was grateful that we were helping his people. He wanted us to have a better understanding of the effects poverty had in his province so he arranged for two of his police officers to drive us to Samloth, which is the northernmost district in Cambodia (bordering Thailand). There we met with the village chief of one of the small towns and then spoke to people in one of the villages. They wanted us to start a day care center and also asked for help in digging a pond for water.
Sunday morning, we went to the day care center. We wouldn’t have a chance to visit with the children until Monday, but this was our staging area for the “home visit” to the village. We organized the newly bought clothing into bags for distribution, chose our bicycles and pedaled off into the surrounding countryside. Barbara’s bicycle had no brakes, and trying to steer and balance the bag of clothing was a tad precarious. Ultimately, we had to abandon the bicycles anyway as the dirt road became too muddy and we had to set off by foot. Crowds of eager and curious villagers met us at every stop, and it quickly became apparent that we didn’t have enough clothing for everyone, especially the older children. Sophal suggested that we separate the tops and bottoms, and not give complete outfits. We also had rubber shoes, hair ribbons, and biscuits to distribute. Sophal was our interpreter as we listened to many sad stories. At one stop, a young girl of about eight years of age came out to greet us, shirtless and with matted hair. She was living with her four siblings, the eldest of whom is 14 and tried his best to take care of his younger brothers and sisters. The parents have gone to Thailand to look for work. We later learned that there were approximately twenty other families in this situation. Another woman we visited had five children, and she was nursing her baby as we spoke to her. She told us that her oldest two children, ages 11 and 14, spend their days picking Morning Glory’s to sell at the market. The father works odd jobs, and only earns $1 per day. This was just enough to pay for a day’s worth of rice for the family.
The next morning, Monday, we had a chance to visit with the children at the day care center before heading back to Phnom Penh. Many of the children were wearing the clothing that we had distributed the day before. We arrived just in time for their morning exercises, then it was story time and lessons. We were impressed to see that they were using many of the stories and songs, which Sophal had translated into Khmer that we had taught them on our last visit. (“Old McDonald Had a Farm” was immediately recognizable because eei, aye – eei aye – oh doesn’t translate to Khmer.) We were impressed with the quality of the teachers and “child minders”, who love their work and genuinely care for the children. After lessons, it was time for dancing. This time, Barbara was the one being taught traditional Khmer dance, which is not as easy as the children make it look. Before we knew it, it was bath time (we had bought the children much-needed new towels) then nap time, and we were once again impressed and pleased with their routine, which included brushing their teeth! We were only able to spend a few precious hours with the children, as we had to catch our bus back to Phnom Penh at noon.
We were happy to donate beanie babies, books, cassette tapes of children’s songs, two cassette players and thermometers. Sophal had presented us with a list of additional needs for the daycare, which included new playground equipment, a VCR player for educational shows to include electricity for the year, medical supplies and a medicine chest as well as 20 bags of rice to give to the poorest villagers. We donated cash toward these purchases.
We would like to continue supporting this daycare center, as it clearly has a very positive influence on the community and gives these young children a head start in life, in the spirit of Head Start programs in the U.S. One glaring need is to support the children through Primary School (grades 1 to 6). Most never make it past grade one due to lack of funds for uniforms and supplies. They only receive one meal there and we would like to include breakfast to make it two nutritional meals a day. They also have need of a well or water source, a drainage ditch, and a new dining room.
On our last full day in Phnom Penh, we made a final trip to the market to buy rice, dried fish, pork, and vegetables for the SFODA orphanage. We did not know how we would get the rice delivered to the orphanage, as we had bought a 6 month supply of ten-50lb bags! Never fear, the moto drivers arrived and they delivered. Two drivers managed to balance five bags of rice each on their little motos (two in the front, two in the back, and one in the middle.) The wheels of their motos were flattened to the ground by the weight of the load, but they managed the drive to the orphanage. The children at the orphanage were thrilled to get their rice and food, and we were grateful to spend a little more time with them. There is a new family there, two brother and two sisters. The youngest is just a baby of approximately 15 months, who the eldest brother was carrying around on his hip. The eldest brother, age 9, was looking after three younger siblings; approximate ages were 15 months, 5, and 7. The father had left his children at the orphanage because his wife had died of AIDS and he could no longer care for them. The five-year-old girl had the most disarming grin-whenever one of us would glance her way, her face lit up with a beautiful smile. Chris and Barbara spent most of the afternoon playing with these children, and it was heartbreaking to say our final goodbyes. SFODA has started an art school and a gem polishing operation in order to assist the older children to find work. They also have a Karate school. Even though the facility is the same they have rearranged it to accommodate these changes.
We also had to say our final goodbyes to many other friends who met us at the hotel that evening. We also met with Nina from the Sobhanna foundation to discuss how we could best support the daycare center in Battambang. Some other ideas were sponsoring uniforms for the Day Care Center, English classes, and medical and dental care. There are so many needs, and we will have to choose one or two of the most pressing to focus our efforts on for now.
In the morning, Rambo picked us up at the hotel and took us to his father’s home so that we could say goodbye to Mr. Phan before heading back to Singapore. Mr. Phan was in good spirits, and was wearing the Hawaiian shirt we had given him when we first arrived. Chris made him promise to continue exercising (walking while holding onto a railing attached to the side of his home) and continue taking his meds, which he promised to do. We look forward to seeing him next year, and pray that he continues to recover.
Back in Singapore, Jean and Jack Miller graciously hosted a dinner party for us to meet friends and potential supporters. We want to thank them for their warm hospitality and support. We would extend grateful thanks to the following organizations for their donations: Singapore American School National Honor Society, Navy Chapel community in Singapore, the NCIS community in Singapore, as well as our Singapore Cosmos travel agent, Sonny See.
We would like to dedicate this newsletter to Dr. Ling Sing Yew who passed away this year. He was an original member of our medical team and came with us this time despite ongoing medical treatment for his illness. He was a kind, selfless, and truly compassionate human being. Dr. Ling was a participant in many medical missions giving freely of his time and talents. One always found him optimistic and smiling. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues, as well as those who benefited from his surgical skills.
Our planned medical mission trip for 2003 was cancelled due to the SARS outbreak in SEAsia. Our third trip then took place in February 2004. This trip was a bit of an adventure for myself, my son, Kyle and Ivey who were relocated back to the USA from our homes of many years in Singapore.
The planning and coordination for this mission was more complicated and involved a twenty-two hour flight for us as well. Fortunately, Dr Fong Poh Him on an earlier trip to Phnom Penh was able to connect with several medical facilities and establish patient referrals for the team.
Our medical team consisted of Dr. Fong Poh Him, Dr. Ling Sing Yew, Dr. Lee Chong Hwa, (James), Dr. Lee Kheng Hin, Dr. Cathering Jessop, Christine Wagner, and Ivey Peterson. Barbara Rinehart, her daughter Cassie, Helen , and Kyle Wagner were our volunteers.
We packed up our supplies into thirty boxes and managed their transport to the airport with US Navy assistance. Unfortunately however once we arrived in Phnom Penh our boxes were held up in customs. Several of the boxes had the supplies needed to begin surgery. The team went on ahead to get set up at the hospital and Catherine and Chris stayed with Dr. Say Sengly, Director of Municipal Hospital to try to get these supplies released. We were not successful so we implemented plan B and made a trip with the doctor to the “medical” market to purchase the surgical supplies we needed. I was amazed to find everything we needed in a small store off a dusty non-descript street, and all within our budget. The boxes were released two days later after much effort on the part of Dr. Say Sengly.
The medical team split up to work, our home base remaining Municipal Hospital. The team also worked with Dr. Kendrick Kahler at Clinic Preah Ket Mealea, Dr. Mok Theavny at Prehbat Norodom Sihanouk Hospital, and with the staff of Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE. It was a very hectic five day mission as it was often difficult to keep track of everyone traveling between four facilities. Expanding the mission allowed the medical team to do more complicated surgeries as well as the usual surgical removal of scars, lesions, and cleft lip repair. The doctors preformed thirty five surgeries this trip. Included were the removal of a maxillary tumor from a young woman, removal of a large lipoma from the back and neck of a patient, and a lymph biopsy on a lymphoma patient. They also surgically excised an extensive basal cell carcinoma from a patient’s face, did an extensive burn scar revision which required reconstruction of the lip, nares, and neck contracture release. There were two patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the lip that required complex reconstruction and one with cancer involving the ear. They also did cleft lip repair and surgically corrected a patient with bilateral ptosis of the eyelids. Our orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Lee Chong Hwa, preformed a shoulder fracture reduction and a bone graft on a tibial fracture that had not healed properly. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Lee Kheng Hin evaluated several patients but was only able to do a tracheostomy on a young boy who had fallen from a building. Both surgeons found that the hospitals lacked equipment necessary to function a Western standards making it difficult for them to treat patients.
The team as usual was very adaptable, quick thinking, innovative, calm, and as ever resourceful. No job was too small and everyone pitched in where they were needed. This trip was a wonderful example of compassion and the true spirit of selfless giving. The Cambodian people have a stoicism and a joy in the simplicity of life that is not common in the West. We all received back ten times what we gave.
Our volunteer team spent quite alot of time at SFODA orphanage. We provided rice, fruit, sweets, school supplies, sports equipment, and art materials. There is a young boy at the home that is a wonderful painter. He paints Cambodian scenes in oils. Several of us bought his paintings. Our hope is that he can get more exposure for his work and be able to attend an art school to further his skill. Helen provided him with much needed are supplies.
We paid a visit to Geraldine Cox’s, Sunrise Children’s Village and were pleased to see Vannak, a fourteen year old boy at the home that Chris and Kyle sponsor.
Peaceful Children’s Home I invited us for lunch on our last day. We took the whole team. We enjoyed a relaxing day and were treated to their wonderful Khmer dancing and singing. We were able to distribute the supplies we brought as well as food and money towards the purchase of rice. Our boys were challenged to a basketball game with the new balls and nets we provided. They had a rousing, sweaty game and retired to play video games brought in by a Dutch volunteer.
Kyle and Cassie at thirteen the youngest of our volunteers were at times overwhelmed by the poverty surrounding them. Kyle spent some time in surgery with Dr. Fong and Dr. Ling. Their surgery involved a young woman, horribly disfigured by acid burns to the face and neck. He gained a new understanding of the complexity of surgery and a compassion for the patient. He will never forget this trip. Cassie spent alot of time with the children of SFODA. They took several of them to the mall in the city. Sotea had never been on an escalator and was so fearful she needed alot of encouragement from them to get on it. This was a big surprise for our kids.
Even though we are now home and have picked up the threads of our normal lives we won’t soon forget the Khmer people we came in contact with. Whether they were children or patients or hospital staff they have brought something into our lives that will forever remain.
THANK YOU- To the US Military Chapel in Singapore for their generous donation, also to the military personnel that helped us load our boxes, and the US military community in Singapore for their support of our bake sale fundraisers and their donations. To Goldplus Universal Pte. Lted. for their donation of cases of Vitamin C. To Sara for her donation raised from car wash profits she initiated to help us. To Jacquie Kubicki for her donations and fundraising assistance. To the Singapore American School National Honor Society for their donation of money and sports equipment.