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Ogden mission continues


Dr. James Ogden and a team of people from Goldendale have been on a medical mission to Cambodia. Following is another report from the road.

March 28

We are all still doing well. On Tuesday morning we had no set schedule until about 10 a.m., and then we went to the Russian Market, one of the big public markets in Phnom Penh. It is like a big flea Market where there are hundreds of vendors selling everything from groceries to clothes, shoes, souvenirs, appliances—just about anything that you want. We bought a few things and looked around a lot. At lunch time, we went to Jars of Clay, a restaurant that I have been to every time that I have been in Cambodia since the first time in 2007. Jars of Clay is a ministry to help women who have had a hard time in life. While working for pay at the restaurant, they learn food service work, management, and other marketable job skills that enable them to get a job in some other place. The menu includes European, American, and Khmer food. Prices are reasonable, and in addition to the upstairs sit-down restaurant, they have a coffee shop downstairs, complete with a big selection of desserts.

After lunch, we visited the Khmer Vision Foundation, whose project provides free cataract and pterygium surgery to people who need these services but cannot afford them. Their present building is very nice but too small for what they need at this time, so they have plans to build an additional, larger building nearby. I don’t know who supports this foundation, but they must have a lot of money. All of the equipment that I saw was brand new—slit lamps, OCTs OCTAs, operating microscopes, and more. I am not familiar with the cost of this much equipment, but I would bet that it at least approaches $1.5 million, not counting the exam tables, furniture, autoclaves, and other additional furnishings. The Khmer Vision Foundation sends a team and mobile clinic to villages to do vision screenings and then then makes arrangement to bring those patients who need surgery to the Phnom Pehn surgery center. They have a week or two block of time when eye surgeons and sometimes their assistants and other staff from all over the world donate their time to do the surgery. The patients are kept overnight in a hotel, checked the next morning, and then taken back home with their aftercare drops. One of the people who gave us the tour is an ER nurse from the U.S. who is learning to be an ophthalmic nurse, and she said that they have had no post-surgery infection issues.

Today (Wednesday) we went to the Choeung Ek Genocide Center, aka The Killing Fields, which are about 15 kilometers from Phnom Penh. This is one of many such places that were built during the Khmer Rouge time in Cambodia. I was there in 2007 and said that I would never go there again, but everyone else on the team had never been there, so I went along. At the entrance, you are given an audio device that explains about each stop on the way through the compound. It is hard to believe that such a thing could happen. The bodies were exhumed in the early 1980s and analyzed as to age, sex, and cause of death. I will not share any other details, since they are so horrible. The exhumed bones are on display in a “stupa” or monument (a building about 3 stories tall), behind glass. There is also a display of the weapons used to kill the unfortunate people who ended up there. There is a museum, which I don’t think was there in 2007 that has some historical information, and a movie that explains the whole gory mess.

Once we were back in Phnom Penh, we went to the Toul Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh. I was there, also in 2007. This building was a high school when Pol Pot came to power in in 1975, but he turned it into an interrogation and torture center. Most of the people who died at the Killing Fields were first held at Toul Sleng. It is unknown how many people were incarcerated and killed at this prison since many of the records were destroyed when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge were about to be run out Cambodia by the Vietnamese in 1979. According to the museum exhibits, most of the guards, interrogaters, and executioners were early-twenty somethings and teenagers. Both Toul Sleng and the Killing Fields are unbelievably awful places. Hard to believe that people can be capable of being so cruel.

After lunch, we visited a school that teaches people to fabricate and fit artificial limbs, back braces, prosthetic arms, and other orthopedic aids. Most of their patients are diabetics or accident victims. Students come there from all over Southeast Asia to learn this skill. There are also a few who come from places in Africa. The school has scholarships available for promising students who need financial assistance. After graduation, the scholarship students have to work for two years at one of the clinics that this school operates at several places in Cambodia as well as a number of locations in other countries. I think it works just like the scholarship that I got from the Navy in 1972. I had to work as an optometrist at the Charleston Naval Shipyard for two years (at full pay and benefits) after I graduated.

After all of the dreariness of the morning at Toul Sleng and the Killing Fields, it was nice to see a facility that is training eager young people in a trade that will provide them with an ample income and will give them the satisfaction of helping people in life changing ways—just like optometry has done for me for almost 45 years.


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