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.