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O.k., o.k. here is my post already.

Although I have been on three medical missions, this was my first as trip coordinator and well as my first in Cambodia.  I had visited the country 11 years ago and fell in love with it.  The stillness and awe of Angkor Watt and the jungle sounds that would come alive at night as you explored the crumbling, majestic architecture and the fading reliefs of a lost time bathed in mystery.  But my most vivid memory of Cambodia was of so many children.  Running, smiling and waving they would emerge like sparrows from the trees, the rivers, or their meager thatched homes.  They would come running to the side of the dirt road when they saw my motorbike coming during my adventures through the country side and flash their bright, perfect smiles.  It seemed to be a land of children devoid of adults, like something out of a fairy tale.  My visions of the flat, bright green rice fields, the bright blue sky and the scattered palm trees as far as the eye could see gently masked the day to day hardships of what is all but a fairytale in Cambodia.

Although I was familiar with its dark history, when I reflected on the genocide, I would tend to focus on the atrocities, evil acts, senselessness and politics of the time.  Other than the serious problems of land mines, the great sorrow and loss, and the emotional toll of the Cambodian citizens, I didn’t stop to think of the other devastating effects of the aftermath following the fall of the Pol Pot regime.  I didn’t stop to think that the healthcare system virtually disappeared.  By the end of the genocide, only 40 doctors remained in the entire country.  Infrastructure for medical education had also been decimated.

Every day, 400 children arrive at AHC in need of healthcare.  Approximately one child a day dies at AHC and the majority of these deaths are due to one simple reason.  Arriving too late.  Even today, just 32 years after the horror, 1 in 15 children die before the age of 5.  Most deaths are from preventible or easily treatable diseases that would not have occurred had the child had access to appropriate health care.  The average Cambodian citizen makes $1 a day.  To travel from rural areas to a healthcare facility may mean having to sell your land or borrow from your community to make the trip.

I picked up a paper in the hotel lobby today and read about a young woman who was about to give birth.  Complications arose and due to the current flooding in Cambodia, she was unable to reach a hospital.  Her village desperately tried to find a boat to make the journey and by the time they found one, she was dead.  We had the privilege of AHC treating our team to a journey to a floating village where they provide home care every two weeks.  A small yellow structure emerges out of the water, waiting to save the life of a child.  AHC is a training hospital for their medical personnel and the home care service is beginning to expand throughout the country.

I had a fortunate chance meeting in the lobby of our hotel with the founder of AHC, a Japanese man who says he currently comes back twice a year because the Cambodian staff is now running the hospital.  They do not pay as well as other hospitals but people want to work here.  He said to me, “I tell them to work here for the education.  The country has such an unfortunate history.  Learn everything you can, then go and start your own practice.  You are so young and have so much opportunity ahead of you.  I only ask one thing of you.  Treat every child as if it’s your own.”  I have seen it first hand and it’s a beautiful thing.  I have been asked why I don’t spend this time volunteering in my own country.  I think every child on this planet deserves a chance.  I hope every mother or father who reads this blog takes a moment to be grateful for the healthcare available to their children so they can have a healthy childhood and a promising future full of opportunity.

Ronda Carlson

Trip Coordinator

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