A Change of Guard

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Monday, 17 October 2011

Dispatch From Cambodia: Vancouvers’ Pam Stevens

Pam Stevens with a Cambodian bay at the Angkor Hospital in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The Province
October 16, 2011
Posted by: Rudy Pospisil

You have likely heard radio personality Pam Stevens’ voice on the radio in Vancouver on several stations most recently 104.9. Pam is a world traveler but with a twist. Her journeys take her to Countries off the beaten path, not only to enrich herself in the culture, and meet the people, but to volunteer her help.

The beginning of this journey led Pam through “The Killing Fields” of Cambodia. A Cambodian journalist coined the term ‘killing fields’ during his escape from the regime. Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a population of around 8 million. In 1979, communist Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime.

She is now in Cambodia Country number 35 volunteering at Ankor Hospital until October 28.

Stevens then travels to Myanmar, then Laos and Vietnam on the way back to Phnom Penh. My Global circle by bike for cancer research takes me far and fast, but she has no particular charity and plants herself in one place to help where its needed. I will be updating Pam’s progress here weekly on my blog.

Pam is in the Chi Kraeng district of Cambodia . Its the worst flooding in Cambodia in modern times. Apparently the waters are also continuing to rise in Cambodia, where Phnom Penh is threatened. Across the country 183 people have died since August and almost 100,000 hectares of paddy are damaged or destroyed. Regionwide, at least 500 people are dead and millions are affected in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

This time of year the oversaturation of the Mekong River means the Tonle Sap River here actually reverses it’s direction of flow! (one of only 2 rivers that can do that) It’s also flooding it’s banks so I walked to work today in shin deep water

In rural Chi Kraeng district of Cambodia a woman shoves her baby into my arms and stands back to admire us. Through the translator she asks my age. “She is 42″ he replies. An approving murmur comes from the crowd. “Maybe you would like to take the baby back to Canada with you?” the translator asks at their behest. Suddenly I’m holding the baby a little further from my body. “Oh no” I reply. “Sometimes I have enough trouble just taking care of myself!”

It not exactly disappointment I see in their faces but perhaps some hopes have been dashed. Still, they smile and offer me thanks for my visit, reluctantly taking this lovely little girl back from me. I walk back to our truck slightly stunned. Were they serious? I heard this might happen but had trouble believing it. Now, it can’t be denied.

The average wage in rural Cambodia hovers around two dollars a day. When you’re already having trouble feeding a couple of children an addition to the family is not always seen as a blessed event. They understand the barang, or foreigners have a much higher standard of living and hope that the child they can’t provide for might grow up in a much different world from the one they toil in each day. How on earth did I find myself here!?

It all began at the Point Grey home of Dr. John and Nina Cassils. The two are longtime supporters of the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia and they wanted to expose people in our city to the work being done there. The images in the presentation stuck with me and a few years later I found myself unemployed but enjoying a severance package and realized this was my chance to help.

You might remember that in the late 70′s, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army wiped out much of the population focusing on the educated and well off. By the time the massacre ended, 40 doctors remained in the entire country. The entire medical system had been wiped out along with much of the countries infrastructure and wealth. It’s been a long, hard road back for those that survived. Today 70% of the country’s population is under the age of 30, 50% under 20. There are future leaders on the way but for now, help needs to come from the rest of the world. And it does. Surgical teams arrive to correct as many heart defects and cleft palates as they can in a week. Money arrives from all corners of the world from foundations and personal donors alike. Volunteers arrive weekly to donate their knowledge and time. Over the years AHC has grown to become a major training hospital with an extended outreach program and more and more satellite clinics each year. Morning and afternoon, two home care vehicles leave the compound carrying medication, nutritious food and sometimes a lucky volunteer like me.

Angkor hospital has treated over 900,000 children since 1999. www.angkorhospital.org

Stay tuned. Read the original article here.

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