Cambodia


During a brief study abroad in 2005, I toured a clinic operated by RoseCharities in Phnom Penh and was impressed by the efficiency and dedication of the medical workers there. In fact, this was the clinic that first sparked my interest in becoming a doctor. It was one of the few NGOs my class visited that offered both immediate and long-term relief to people struggling through the effects of poverty: immediate relief through life-saving medical procedures that would have been otherwise impossible for the clinic’s patients, and long-term benefits through community outreach programs and an emphasis on improving the quality of life in Cambodia.

Even in the few short weeks we spent in Cambodia studying aid organizations, it was easy to become discouraged by the waste, and sometimes obvious corruption, that plagued well-intentioned charities, but the Rose Clinic seemed to stretch every dollar it received. As I saw firsthand in 2005, a $20 donation to RoseCharities can restore a person’s sight, and $50 can repair a cleft palate or give a child the ability to walk. For more information on how to donate to RoseCharities, please see http://www.rosecharities.info/donate.htm.

The organization’s efficiency can be traced to its formation, as outlined on the RoseCharities homepage:

“Founded by aid workers who were disillusioned by the waste and bureaucracy often seen in international aid, we started in Cambodia in 1998. The aim was to deliver effective, sustainable programmes directly to those in need, with minimal bureaucracy, and with transparency at every stage….We are run by volunteers, so administration costs are kept to a bare minimum, with 98% of donations going directly to support our work.”

– RoseCharities
http://www.rosecharities.info/

I contacted Rose last October and asked if they’d be willing to take us in for a few weeks as volunteers, and they graciously agreed. Since then, Bill and Jan Johnston have been bending over backwards to find opportunities to put our random interests and talents to work. We started last Wednesday with a short tour of the gynecology ward in the Chey Chumnas General Hospital in Takmao, the hospital where Rose Cambodia is based. That afternoon we helped enter patient files into the computer (data entry is a rare example of a skill that Danielle and I both possess).

Thursday we traveled to the countryside with Sokny, the physical therapist on staff at the Rose office, to work with a woman who had laid in bed for 30 years after a debilitating bout with encephalitis (for more info visit the Rose Rehab page: http://www.rosecambodia.org/?page_id=12). The physical therapists at Rose have been working with her to help her gain the strength to sit up, and in order to get her hands moving Danielle brought a bunch of art supplies. We made simple shapes for her to paint in, and Danielle taught her a few strokes. Danielle and I were so absorbed in watching her work that it took a while to notice the dozen or so kids from the village in a semicircle around her, jealously watching her paint. It was a great visit. As we left, Danielle hung some of her paintings next to her bed with ribbon.

On the way back to the office, we stopped to visit a woman who had been badly burned on her legs by gasoline, and the physical therapists changed a bandage for her. Apparently a skin graft had failed to take, so there was still a gaping wound behind her left knee months after the accident. While we were visiting her, her neighbors brought another potential patient to see the therapists and placed him on the bed next to her. The man had been in a motorcycle accident and could no longer move the left side of his arm. The physical therapists assessed him and made an appointment to see him later at the clinic.

As we were about to leave, the neighbors convinced the therapists to see a woman next door who was having trouble walking. While the physical therapists did their thing, Danielle and I hung back and smiled shyly at some very friendly older women, who seemed to be staring at us. One of them started talking, half at us and half at the women around her. She then started wiping at her nose, as if to inform me that I powdered sugar on the end of mine, so I self-consciously started doing the same but she just laughed. One of the therapists translated, “She wants your nose.” This seemed hysterical at the time, so Danielle and I giggled about it for a while.

After the therapists had finished their work we got back in the tuk tuk, but before we could go there was some kind of commotion. The lady who couldn’t stop looking at my nose jumped into the tuk tuk and handed us each a coconut and a straw. We very gratefully accepted and drove off.


We made one last stop to see a beautiful young girl who was working with the therapists to build the strength in her arms and legs, and then we took a holiday all weekend (2 working days is long enough…)

Today Bill gave us a tour of the Rose Eye Clinic just outside Phnom Penh in the morning, and Danielle and I returned in the afternoon to observe glaucoma surgeries. We watched for 2 and a half hours as nearly a dozen patients underwent the 20-30 minute procedure. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.

I may move to Cambodia when I’m a doctor just so I can operate in flip flops

More to come on what we’ve been doing with our play time in this wonderful country.

Posted by Jess at 2/21/2011

See also the rest of Jess’s blog