I started writing this on the plane flying back from Cambodia, after spending two days at The Children’s Surgical Centre (CSC) and The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC) in Phnom Penh. Reading it back to myself later I quickly realised that what I thought was a thought-provoking, meaningful and accurate narrative of my time in Cambodia was in fact a garbled mess. It was an emotionally-charged expulsion that came nowhere near doing justice to what I really wanted to convey. So before I go any further, I think it best I reinforce now that what I observed, how I felt, what I’ve learned and everything I’ve personally taken away from this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. However, it’s so incredibly difficult to articulate this without coming across as a sanctimonious moron, oozing self-righteousness from every pore; like those folk who’ve “been on a course”, you know? They don’t need to tell you this, you always know because it’s simply impossible to ignore when they’re imparting their newly acquired skills and positivity in a typically ‘gavage’ fashion. So please believe me when I say that my intention here is not to frown upon the world, nor to make sweeping, judgemental statements, nor to cast aspersions, nor to offend. I merely wish to share my experience; to convey a sense of being humbled and overwhelmed by the work of Dr Jim Gollogly OBE, his wife Kanya and the teams at CSC & CASC. I’d also like to express my gratitude to Ian Mullane/Vanda for giving me the opportunity to experience this. It has reinforced that I am incredibly fortunate in so many ways and I just hope that I do a much better job of appreciating this in future. So, here goes (gulp)….
It’s been said that a third of the population of Cambodia live on less than US$1.00 per day. That’s not intended to shock you necessarily, it’s simply a statement of fact; a frame of reference so to speak because it would be fair to suggest that money is a language we all know and understand. It can of course be quite the controversial debate though and many would argue that it’s impolite to highlight that some people (and also some countries) have substantially and unnecessarily more wealth than others. It’s perfectly true and acceptable though, right? A little bit like evolution or natural selection? It happens. There is of course enough to go around but it doesn’t work like that because essentially, it’s survival of the (fiscally) fittest (or frugal), right? Well in all honesty, after the few days I spent in Cambodia this is increasingly harder to accept but it is, without question, a reality. It is not something that can or will change overnight. That is why the work of CSC & CASC is so very important. Fundamentally, they are not only saving lives but they’re changing lives for the better, giving people choices and creating opportunities for them to build themselves and their families a better, happier & considerably healthier future.
Essentially, CSC is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which aims to improve the quality of life for disabled Cambodian children and adults by providing rehabilitation surgery encompassing orthopaedic, eye, plastic and burns surgery. Integral to their mission is a program of training local surgeons & health workers, focusing on the development of sustainable surgical services for Cambodians. Sound impressive? Well it is, believe me. What’s equally if not more impressive is that this non-profit organisation, which operates from a small, tired looking site off a dusty track on the outskirts on Phnom Penh, provides this support free of charge. Yes – absolutely, completely and utterly gratis!
Dr Jim and his team treat babies, young children, adults & the relatively small, elderly population of Cambodia who arrive from far and wide at the CSC waiting ‘room’ (a somewhat rickety looking lean-to outside the hospital building), only if they are in dire need of rehabilitation surgery and have either sought and been refused treatment elsewhere, or simply have no means to pay for even the most basic medical care. Their need could be as a result of birth defects or other physical abnormalities, serious accidents, illness or disease and in many cases, they’ve gone untreated for months or even years. Some patients have lost their sight, others the ability to walk (if they even had it in the first place), more still live day to day tolerating pain, a lack of mobility or a physical appearance that perhaps isn’t considered socially acceptable. What’s more, all of the patients I observed coming through the doors of CSC seem to do so with a calm acceptance of their situation; they’re quiet, unassuming and I’d even go so far as to say serene in the way they carry themselves – from the point of initial consultation right through to their post-operative state, when you or I would likely be dosed up on morphine and complaining bitterly about our situation, their quiet yet powerful resilience is genuinely overwhelming.
The cost of surgery at CSC is anything upwards of US$40, with the average being around US$150 per operation. They perform around 5000 surgeries per year and their approach is one of ruthless efficiency and limitless creativity and resourcefulness. Dr Jim runs a tight ship. He’s a zero-tolerance, no BS kind of a guy; a charismatic leader, a mentor and an inspiring figure to everyone at CSC. He ensures that absolutely nothing is wasted – not time, not energy, not effort and certainly not medical equipment or supplies. Each instrument, dressing and tool of his trade has been carefully selected and will be used sparingly yet wisely, with cost always kept in mind.
During my two days at CSC I witnessed first-hand just what a valuable difference they are making to people’s lives. I observed surgery on a one year old baby with hydocephalus, where a cerebral shunt was fitted to drain the excess fluid from the baby’s brain and I’m not ashamed to admit it, this one made me cry and I was on the verge of having to leave the OR. I also observed a double hand amputation & mind-blowing Kruckenberg procedure (a technique that converts the resulting forearm ‘stump’ into a pincer) on a man who’d suffered irreparable electricity burns to both hands several weeks ago and had received inadequate treatment elsewhere. I didn’t cry during this one but it’s fair to say that my mind was well and truly blown! I saw eye surgery on children and adults, removing cataracts and replacing them with new, plastic lenses to restore vision. I witnessed several, extremely graphic surgeries to straighten, repair/rebuild limbs that have caused pain or a lack of mobility for many years and I saw the shocking effects of a young woman who had fallen victim to acid violence – the act of throwing acid onto the face/body of a person with the intention of injuring or disfiguring, out of jealousy or revenge. She had 20% burns to her face, breasts, torso and leg and will, if she survives, have an unquestionably agonising plight ahead, both physically and psychologically. I could go on and on…..
I sincerely hope that I’ve managed to convey how this entire experience was as emotionally challenging as it was rewarding. The people of Cambodia have overcome much and continue to do so today. Their need is great and there is still much to be done, not least in terms of massive reform to address the continued political and economical instability however, with the help of CSC, CASC and other similar, non-profit organisations, small but immensely positive changes can and are taking place. A very real example of this is the new wing currently being constructed on the old hospital building, creating a further 60 beds for post-operative patients. This is as a direct result of funds raised by Ian Mullane/Vanda and the IFS White Collar Boxing events so you see, every contribution made really does help. Quite literally, each dollar and cent raised through your charitable donations is ploughed into the day-to-day running and future development of CSC – savings lives and changing lives.
I now know exactly what I’m fighting for and it’s so much more than I ever anticipated. I also understand now more than ever that charity is a very personal thing and you can’t expect everyone to support everything. Having said that, as my friends, family, colleagues & supporters, if you can picture yourself buying me a skinny caramel latte, a cold glass of Sauv Blanc or better still, a lovely G&T to applaud my white collar boxing challenge then instead of buying me that drink, please consider making a donation on the link below. That would genuinely make me very, very happy. It will also make 17th March 2012, when I step into the ring in front of 1300 people, a far greater achievement on a significantly larger scale.