A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Dispatches from Cambodia: The Rainy Season (Week 2)

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

Posted by Rudy Pospisil
The Province
Vancouver, Canada
October 18, 2011

Pam Stevens radio personality from Vancouver is travelling through South-East Asia. She is currently volunteering at Angkor Hospital in Cambodia. The country is winding down it’s rainy season which has been exceptionally wet this year. Flooding has been responsible for many deaths this year. The city of Siem Reap, where Pam is, has flooded five times in as many weeks and much of the countryside has been underwater that whole time . Here are her stories:

The rainy season. For a Vancouverite it means cold, grey days where the drizzle is constant and the cold can cut through to the bone. For a Cambodian it usually means that tropical rain that you can almost time with a stopwatch. Mornings will be nice and sunny and then with regularity, the clouds roll and in dump their moisture across the land, rolling away a half hour later. This year though, has been a doozy!

Let me back up a bit. Siem Reap, where I’m currently volunteering at the Angkor Hospital for Children, sits along the banks of the Tonle Sap river that meets nearby with Lake Tonle Sap. A natural phenomenon takes place each fall as the monsoon season over South East Asia saturates the land. The increased flow of the giant Mekong river coming south from Vietnam actually forces the Tonle Sap river to change it’s direction of flow. Instead of heading south towards the South China Sea, the water is forced to flow back into Lake Tonle Sap increasing it’s area to about five times it’s size in the dry season.

Many who make their living as fisherman actually live on the lake. Not the waterfront property a North American is likely to imagine, but ON the lake, in floating villages. Each building is built on bamboo rafts so as the water recedes, they can move their houses to stay near the water. When the water rises as it does each year, there’s no worry of “how high” because the house just keeps going up and up along with the water. It occurred to me as an added bonus, if you don’t get along with your neighbour, you can just float somewhere else for the next season!

Things have been very different for those that live in the city though. They can’t move as the water rises so they prepare for the flooding with sandbags and other creative ways to keep the water at bay. Normally, the river in town will breach its banks once or twice in a season. The city is currently dealing with the fifth flood to come over Siem Reap this season and when I’m walking home after dinner at night, the fact that the river is also home to crocodiles is not lost on me!

The hospital itself has been built up and appears as a bit of an island haven in the middle of this dark water. The streets outside our walls are normally bustling with activity – food carts, patient’s scooters and bikes parked on the sidewalk and steady traffic streaming by. Here’s what it looked like this morning:

Although we are open for business, most of the children that would be referred to our hospital are not able to get here. Numbers are down around the hospital by about half this month simply because ‘you can’t get there from here’. One shudders to think what’s happening in the rural villages when a child is sick but there are no doctors to see them. Of course that means when the water subsides, the triage will be inundated with sick kids.

With the rain comes dengue fever and often a malaria outbreak but the bulk of issues will likely still be treatable and preventable, if they can get to us. So many children still die here from things like diarrhea and pneumonia simply because the families cannot afford to travel for treatment, or they do not make it to the hospital in time. In fact, one child in 15 doesn’t make it to see their 5th birthday.

Malaria Risk Areas

Angkor Hospital for Children is making great strides in trying to fix that and that’s where you can help. Please have a look at all the good they do at www.angkorhospital.org and consider them for your Christmas giving.

Aw Kuhn charan or thank you very much.

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