Cambodia Community Program
The purpose of our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia was to explore future dental externship opportunities at the Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC). From the moment we flew over Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest lake, I realised it was different from any country other I had visited before.
The AHC is a full service pediatric hospital providing free and immediate medical assistance to the underserved population of Siem Reap, Cambodia. David Shoemaker, a Canadian director at the hospital, gave us a tour and explained to us that in seven years, the hospital has treated over 375,000 Cambodian children and performed over 6,000 surgeries. He also noted that dehydration is so prevalent that 30% of children that present to the hospital are simply treated with clean water to rehydrate.
One of the greatest challenges facing Cambodia is the lack of well-trained health professionals. Cambodia’s infant mortality rate is 14 times higher than in the US. Inadequate quality of service and limited human resources have prevented these statistics from improving. The AHC is an officially recognized teaching hospital that trains thousands of Cambodian health professional each year.
What impressed me most about the hospital was its community atmosphere. The AHC not only treats the sick children that are admitted to the hospital but they also teach the families of the sick children how to grow vegetable gardens and they give them cooking classes, instructing them about the four basic food groups. The kitchen is communal and each family can cook their own meals with the allotted food at their convenience.
Although the AHC has a two chair dental clinic, it leaves much to be desired. The attached photos show a roll of toilet paper hanging from one chair unit and a papoos board that has tears in its fishing net vest. The AHC directors are looking for donations to fund equipment for their dental clinic. UBC Dentistry is hoping to help them with their “wish list”. They are also looking to hire at least one dentist full time.
Khmer is Cambodia’s official language and not many people speak English. Having said this, the Cambodians are very hospitable and find ways to communicate with you either without words or in broken English. In recent years since the arrest of Cambodia’s civil war, tourism has become increasingly popular in Siem Reap. It is very inexpensive to travel in the country and there are many breathtaking Buddhist and Hindu temples to explore. Despite the economic rewards of tourism, there are still an astonishing number of very poor people in Cambodia that beg on the streets to foreigners for money. “One dolla’” the children say. They will try to sell you anything: woven straw bracelets, flutes, postcards, etc. The most desperate sale I can think of is a young boy about 7 years old, who was floating in a wash basin on lake Tonle Sap, trying to sell snakes.
There are many widespread problems in Cambodia that require international attention. The AHC is a great avenue to helping the children of Cambodia. It is a well-managed, forward-thinking group that is determined to make a better future for the children of Cambodia. If you would like any further information about the AHC, please visit www.angkorhospital.org.