Faith & Life, World

One dream helps 2.2m ill kids since 1999

January 13, 2022

Robaird O’Cearbhaill
Hong Kong Correspondent

The Angkor Hospital for Children  came about after one man’s shock at personally witnessing a child die because her parents could not afford a two-dollar medicine for her treatment. He was moved upon seeing desperate, sick children in Cambodia. The founder, a Japanese photographer – later, a multi-award winner – decided to take action. The hospital website (https://angkorhospital.org/) recounts his and their story. 

“More than 20 years ago, acclaimed Japanese photographer Kenro Izu visited Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor. Then, the poverty rate in Cambodia hovered at 50%, and half of all child deaths were associated with malnutrition. Izu was deeply moved by the ill children he encountered during his photography trips, and the limited basic healthcare that was then offered. He committed himself to building a paediatric hospital in Siem Reap in order to better provide quality healthcare.” 

Izu’s dream was realized in 1999, as their website recounts.  

“Izu established a non-profit organisation and founded Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC). His vision for the hospital was to become a ‘world-class hospital, for Cambodians run by Cambodians.’ When AHC’s gates officially opened in 1999, the hospital was made up of just three Cambodian doctors and ten nurses, numerous medical volunteers from around the world – and one hospital bed.”

As Izu added: “From the beginning, we knew that our task was not an easy one. Each year brought with it new challenges.”

As AHC’s Our Story section narrates, humble beginnings as a teaching hospital and an outpatient program led to 19 departments serviced by over 500 staff. The hospital serviced children in 2019 for “135,000 quality treatments annually – treatments that are safe, timely, effective and patient-centred.”

Their count of patients and teaching achievements by 2007 was  “almost 1,500 Cambodian doctors, nurses and health workers in paediatrics, and had treated almost one-half million children.” The last patients figure since the 1999 foundation was 2,200,000. 

Despite an economy improving  from the 1970s and 1980s, at the world’s lowest level, child health care in Cambodia was still highly challenging. As AHC states “35% of Cambodians live in poverty. 1 in 3 newborn deaths are preventable,” and “1 in 34 Cambodian children die before their 5th birthday.”

Their policy is to help all they can regardless of payment. From AHC’s last financial report funding was from 48% International organizations, 24% international individuals, 16% local fundraising. The American fundraiser Pat Davis, who works at AHC, told O Clarim that he is inspired by his work there since last year.

“My time here at AHC, witnessing so much distress and anxiety on the faces of the parents who bring their children for treatment, has reinforced my belief that we all must commit some part of ourselves to the service of those less fortunate.”

He added in a LinkedIn article that: “…the constant wail of babies crying in the outpatient department below my office provides a vivid example of the need for high-quality pediatric care in low-resource settings like Cambodia. Walking through the hospital grounds every day provides a first-hand glimpse of the real hardship and sacrifice that parents endure to bring their sick children in for treatment.”

His Catholic faith, and experience of charity was clear in the interview for O Clarim.

Davis remembers that exercising charity was usual in his community. “It was never a question of whether you should give back, but how. I always found time to contribute to local charities in my free time. During my 20s, I focused primarily on providing transportation resources to Atlanta’s homeless and refugee communities. Serving on boards, starting my own social enterprise, and leading several volunteer groups was a natural extension of my upbringing and faith.”

He added:.”The strength of our religion is that it is universal and embraces different people from all across the world.” And Davis’ religious instruction, he said, has guided him well.

“Whatever industry you are employed in, your life’s daily decisions should be guided by your faith and improving the lives of as many people as possible. One aspect of Catholic theology that has really informed my working life, is justification. Faith is, of course, very important in guiding our choices. Without good works to perfect that belief, it does little good in the real world.”

   (Images of Angkor Hospital For Children in Siem Reap, Cambodia, February 24, 2009.m World of Children)