Those who have the least are often those who give the most. That is a lesson I have learned over the last week in Cambodia. I’ve been working with an organisation, M’Lop Tapang, that provides health and social care to over 4000 vulnerable children and over 1500 families who are living in desperate situations in Southern Cambodia. The average daily income of a person living in Cambodia is less than $3 USD. Some families literally have nothing. Yet one of the first things that happened here when the tragic earthquakes struck in Nepal is that the M’Lop Tapang community started to raise funds for the people affected in Nepal in an incredibly altruistic move to support those people elsewhere in the world who have had their existence turned upside down, without warning. Those who have the least really are often those who give the most.
After a morning’s clinic we took a 4×4 into the jungle to a community that M’Lop Tapang only started working with recently. They are 5km away from any school or health facility and there are no transport links here unless you have a 4×4 or motorbike although the train goes right through the jungle – and on towards China.
After having been introduced to the Village Chief, who rewarded us with coconuts, we started the clinic – on a ground sheet near a tree in the village. In the middle of the jungle.
I’ve been stunned by the cases* that I have seen this week with the M’Lop Tapang medical team.
For example, a 6 year old and a 9 year old, who have not seen a doctor since 1 and 9 months of age respectively, both of whom have severe developmental delay and quadriplegic cerebral palsy. They have been looked after by their families and the community in a village, without coming to the health centre. Many families living in those circumstances cannot afford the moto or tuk-tuk fare to come into the urban area.
The number of disabled children living in the community is staggering and there is an urgent need for medical care, social care and specialist education for these children. The public health, social care and education systems cannot, or do not, provide this assistance so it is left to non-governmental organisations to provide all of the care and support that this especially vulnerable group of children need.
We’ve seen a six month old baby, whose daytime carer is her 14 year old sister (who has had to drop out of school to look after her whilst their mother packs seafood caught by the local fisherman – their Father has vanished). This little, and I use the word ‘little’ deliberately, baby has survived for six months on just sugar and water. No milk. No porridge. Nothing but sugar and water.
We’ve seen a little girl – age and birth date unknown – who was rescued from a dustbin where, weighing under 3kg, she’d been abandoned in a plastic bag.
Sad those these stories are, all of them will be success stories in the future thanks to the amazing work of M’Lop Tapang. The two children from the rural community have been put into an intensive support educational programme at M’Lop Tapang and the special needs teachers will visit at home. The six month old is now on milk and looking pretty chirpy! The little girl from the dustbin has been taken in by an incredibly caring family and receives medical care at M’Lop Tapang. Apart from being small and malnourished, she is now in pretty good condition and, of course, in a much safer environment.
And what for the future? Our fantastic team back in the UK at the Hospital and the University are committed to supporting M’Lop Tapang for the duration of our three year partnership. We’ll review and evaluate the outcomes towards the end of those three years and discuss how best to continue support in the future.
Our monthly Skype clinics will continue and I’ve seen the exponentially beneficial effects of these already. I’ll be back here in November, hopefully with one of our superb nurses from my Hospital, to undertake some more clinics and to develop some more guidelines for the health centre at M’Lop Tapang. And as for next year I hope to bring an even larger team to Cambodia, from our Hospital, the University and a new UK charity that is just about to be launched.
Over the next few months we’ll be looking for partners in the UK who might be interested in funding some of the development work here in Cambodia – an opportunity that I can guarantee will be fulfilling, both professionally and personally, and will have enormously beneficial effects on a community that is desperately in need of help.
After calling in at the British Embassy, on my way to the airport, for a meeting to discuss my return visit in November 2015, I’ve now left Cambodia and am in Singapore for a meeting with the child protection team from the children’s hospital here.
I wish I could stay in Sihanoukville longer as, despite the adversity faced by the community here, it is stories of resilience and community-spirit that have made this week one of the most professionally and personally satisfying ones of 2015 so far. I’ll be back in less than six months time!
*identifying features of the above cases have been changed to protect confidentiality.