October 2013

Dear friends and partners,

It’s been some time since I have written about the hospital progress. We have had our second red letter day on September 9th when our pilings were completed – all 1,350 of them – a bit of a record as this was done when the rains had begun – when the hospital ground was the biggest swimming pool in Cambodia – when people said it can’t be done – but we did it! Somehow we saved money – not sure quite how that happened but for a cost of $300,000.00 – our bills ended up being $270,000. I am rather benumbed by it all.

Our second phase is beginning with innovation being the main phrase – the rains have fallen with abandon and many of Tabitha project areas went under several meters of water. Sieng is an innovator – a man of vision – how can we do the heavy labor with technical expertise – and so several special machines have been designed – machines that will enable us to do capping – all of the 1,350 piles need to be dug up to a meters depth – each pile needs to be broken and rejoined in sets of 3 or 6 or 9 – these will be joined together with cement and will become the 220 main support columns for the hospital. The things I am learning about construction – about load bearing, about measurements and surveyors – all leave me breathless – all leave me with a deep sense of contentment as yet again I am learning about things I never knew. It’s all quite fun especially when I suggested that we drill a small hole in each pile – put in a touch of dynamite and blow the tops off – this suggestion was met with wide eyed disbelief by our young engineers – you will split the piles they said as they gently escorted me away from the worksite.

This past weekend I was once again reminded of the reason for Nokor Tep Women’s hospital. One of my household staff Ming Wan has been suffering with severe pains at each menstrual cycle. The pain would double her over with pain and so the long list of visits to doctors and hospital began. Ming was diagnosed with an array of ailments such as kidney stones, to gall bladder to being a silly woman. For the past eight months she went from the worst to the best hospitals and doctors – each one gave a cursory exam, plied her with pills and sent her away – when the next bout of pain came – they could not help. In desperation she finally went to Vietnam – the doctors did the tests – and the answer came back as early stage ovarian cancer as well as cervical cancer.

Ming was obviously devastated with the news and could not answer any of my questions on the phone – she needed an operation tomorrow – she need to take pills for three months – in exasperation Tuit - our nanny phoned again and again to answer yet another one of my questions – it took two hours for rationality to replace the terror and shock. The real diagnosis is that she is in a pre-cancerous state for her cysts and the doctors recommend removing these cysts – all of which will be done in three months time.

As Ming was undergoing her nightmare of a journey, Channy’s mother was near the end of her nightmare journey – a year ago the mum was diagnosed with cancer and treated accordingly – but despite all the treatment available in Cambodia – her condition worsened. Last week the family in desperation sold their land and took their mum to Vietnam. It turns out that the mum never had cancer but instead had tuberculosis which was undiagnosed and untreated – the cancer treatment made the illness worse. The doctors could do nothing and sent her home to die. She passed away last night.

Both of these women suffered great pain, they suffered from miss diagnosis – they suffered from ignorance – both ended up in a country whose language they cannot speak – in a city they could not understand. Both women were fortunate in that there were some options – most women in Cambodia have no options.

In my deeply angry moments I think – perhaps we could dig a small hole in our bodies and put in a piece of medicine that would blow the illness away. That, too, is unrealistic. Nokor Tep Women’s Hospital is very realistic but it cannot come soon enough.

 I am so grateful to all of you for enabling us to begin our dream – our next stage will begin in November when the rains have stopped. I thank my God that this will happen, I thank of all you for being a part of it. I pray for the women who are waiting – I pray for each woman for whom the waiting is too long. Thank you for listening,


Stories of Cambodian Women


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