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Cheryl's good work continues in Cambodia

An update from from Seymour resident Cheryl Elliott, now an aid worker in Cambodia.

CHERYL ELLIOTT June 6, 2014 3:53am

Trawool's Bruce Thomas was a relatively recent visitor to New Hope in Cambodia, and he found plenty of smiles while there.


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New Hope Cambodia’s outreach department has been extremely busy in the past few months. We have just finished the rainy season and although flooding in the town of Siem Reap was less than usual it seemed to increase in the outlying areas.

One area that experienced more flooding than usual was the Angkor Wat Complex, resulting in monkeys moving from their usual habitat into the town. Many children attended the New Hope free clinic were suffering from monkey bites and scratches.

The rainy season brought its usual problems of leaking houses, colds, fevers and other illnesses for people in Mondul Bai’s slum area. Some houses still have flood waters beneath them. This water has poured in from open fields usually used as their toilet, resulting in an increase in health issues and mosquito infestation. We tried to provide what help we could but funds are always scarce.

We have had some happy times. An occupational therapist Tara Junghenn (nee Saville), originally from Mansfield, spent many weeks at New Hope working with disabled people through the outreach department.

One of her patients was an 18-year-old young man who had a motorcycle accident, suffering horrific leg injuries three years ago. After surgery at the local hospital he was told he would never walk again and sent home where he spent the next three years sitting on the floor of the family’s thatch hut.

Tara visited him and after he diligently followed her exercise program he was standing within a week and is now walking again and riding a bicycle. It is amazing to see this young man whose life has completely changed and he is never without a huge smile on his face thanks to Tara and her selfless attitude.

We gave a surprise 90th birthday party for an old granny complete with a gift of new clothes to wear to the Pagoda and a birthday cake.

Granny has no family, is a survivor of the Pol Pot regime and spent the afternoon in happy tears. It was her first ever birthday cake and the first gift she had ever received. This joyful experience is taken for granted in the western world.

Although it is fantastic to have good news stories, we are constantly finding new families on the verge of starvation, children who collect rubbish and sell recyclables to buy food earning about 25 cents. People as young as 12 years have to work as cement or rice workers earning $2.50/day when they can find work and a whole generation of people who have little or no education.

Our aim is to arrange sponsorships for these families so they can provide food for their children and send them to school instead of work — school attendance is a condition of our sponsorship program.

Without help these families cannot afford to pay 12.5 cents a day to send their children to school.

When I began in the outreach department four years ago we had 84 sponsored families and I had a translator for half a day. We now have 329 sponsored families, 101 sponsored students, 44 sponsored university students and I have a staff of eight full time Khmer social workers.

My staff are amazing. They have a deep love for their people and come from poor families themselves. They work very hard, each having more than 50 families to support, attend university six nights a week and feel lucky they are so fortunate.

It was wonderful in 2013 to have visitors at New Hope from Seymour. It is always a pleasure to give visitors a tour of our complex and the surrounding slums. We have received generous support from Seymour Rotary and Lions Clubs as well as members of the Seymour community. Anyone visiting Cambodia can contact me at outreach@newhopecambodia.com if they wish to see our work first hand.

Cambodia is a beautiful country, but if you visit, please look beyond the tourist attractions and see the hardship these people suffer on a daily basis. Attending the funeral of someone who has died needlessly simply because the medical facilities are unavailable or extremely limited or they have no food to eat, is sadly an all too common occurrence.

I have developed a deep love for Cambodia and its people. It is a country you cannot help falling in love with but that breaks your heart every day.

We have a 34-year-old woman with an 18-year-old daughter and 12-year-old and 11-year-old sons who has just been diagnosed with cervical cancer stage 4A. Without treatment she has been given 10 months to live.

There is no free medical treatment in Cambodia and New Hope survives solely on donations. Treatment will cost about US$4000 to hopefully extend her life to between two and five years and improve the quality of her life, but this treatment would be in Phnom Penh because chemotherapy is not available in Siem Reap.

This situation is so desperate that her daughter left school and was planning to become a sex worker to help her family. We have provided free accommodation and food for the family and the daughter is back at school.

The situation has become complicated because the woman has now been diagnosed with HIV so it remains to be seen exactly what form her treatment will take.

If anyone could help at all with any amount no matter how small please email me on outreach@newhopecambodia.com

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