A Change of Guard

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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Dispatch From Cambodia (#3): If I Had a Rocket Launcher

October 19, 2011
Posted by Rudy Pospisil

Pam Stevens radio personality from Vancouver BC is travelling through South-East Asia. It is supposed to be a vacation. She is currently at Angkor Hospital volunteering as they can use all the help they can get.

Recently researchers working along the Thai-Cambodian border made an alarming discovery that the parasite that causes malaria was showing signs of resistance to Artemisinin which is known to be one of the best drugs to fight it. Mosquitoes are the main carrier and transmitter of Malaria. World-wide about 800,000 people each year die from Malaria. In South-East Asia there were more than 111 million suspected malaria cases in 2009. The flooding in South-East Asia is not helping because with that comes increased cases of Malaria. Pam is in Cambodia at Angkor Hospital here are her stories:

One of the beauties of traveling is being able to do things you could never do at home. For example, I’ve roasted a marshmallow over lava in Guatemala. I was able to toboggan down an ash covered volcano in Nicaragua and I got to drink yak butter tea at more than 15,000 feet about sea level in Tibet. The 15,000 feet part was cool, the tea I could have done without!!

So, in Cambodia, I leapt at the chance to spend an afternoon shooting heavy artillery! There are a few gun ranges in Phnom Penh that allow you to shoot your weapon of choice as long as you lay down the cash. “When in Rome” I figured and hired a tuk-tuk to take me to the city limits. There you are presented with a menu and a few ground rules and you’re good to go.

I couldnt help but notice a chicken or cow were available with the rocket launcher.

I opted for an AK-47 and an M-16. Peeled off a hundred bucks and went for it. By the looks of the target afterwards, I thought I was a bit of a sharpshooter. Then I realized there were more holes in the paper than there had been bullets in my gun! Oh well, at least I had fun.

Fast forward a week and I’m in a very different place. It’s the Inpatient Unit of Angkor Hospital for Children where I’ve come to volunteer my time. My job is to interview patients that have come to hospital for help in order to create touching stories to say thank you to donors. I meet Chandi. She’s a mother of three who is here with her youngest, Piseth. He’d fallen ill 10 days before with bad headaches and a scarily high fever. At the local health clinic he’s diagnosed with Typhoid and they begin treatment. He’s not getting better though, in fact, his condition is rapidly deteriorating. Panic sets in and Chandi is advised to travel to Siem Reap and see the doctors at AHC.

With no time to make the trip by bus or arrange a shared taxi, she borrows a hundred dollars from her neighbour and hires a private cab. On arrival, it’s found that Piseth was suffering from encephalitis all along and he is a very lucky boy to have made it here in time. The five year old is the youngest in the family. Luckily, Grandma was available to stay with the other kids because Chandi’s husband works in construction and must travel to where the jobs are. She’s telling her story in the Khmer language but from her face I can understand the seriousness of that loan. She tells me her family earns around 2 dollars a day and I start to do the math on how she’ll pay it back. I realize it’s equivalent to me taking a ten thousand dollar taxi ride.

But what mother wouldn’t in order to save her baby? Back in the air-conditioned executive office I’m going through my notes and it’s glaringly apparent what I have to do. I wasn’t exactly cavalier about the hundred dollars I spent in Phnom Penh but it was pretty easy for me to rationalize the decision in the moment. Now, I just felt terrible. The same amount of money that I’d spent for about 12 minutes of entertainment was going to be a debt that would change this family’s life forever. It’s quite likely that the older children would come out of school in order to go to work and it would be years of living hand to mouth in order to repay their debt.

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