Displaced Yankee Productions | 2013 | February
Archive for February 2013

267993_610177935674906_51745938_n   Creature comforts are sometimes in short supply in Cambodia, but there are certainly a lot of comfortable creatures living in my house off Road 6.

Word has spread among the mosquito population that a warm, delicious mammal with yummy A+ blood is serving up a buffet every night between the hours of 9pm and 6am. All you can eat. A massive colony of ants has relocated to the warm, moist bathroom Tropical properties appear to be all the rage with this rather large family of Formicidae. There was a good pile of them congregating on my bar of soap this morning. While it is never too early to learn good hygiene skills, they did not have the proper permitting to gather in a large group, so I washed them down the drain.

At the top of the food chain existing in my residence are the geckos who chirp happily at the sheer amount of snacks my other roommates provide. In fact, their chirping was so loud, I got out of the lukewarm shower I was enjoying with the ants and checked to see who was knocking at the door.

402970_610178212341545_438463473_nWhat one needs for creature comforts is all relative and important to put in perspective. Certainly, my home in San Marino, California and my home in Siem Reap, Cambodia are about as far apart as you can get. But my flat in Siem Reap is a luxury compared to the homes our Safe Haven families live in. Some of the very poorest live in little more than a grass hut. But those simple homes are filled with touches that reflect the love, community and families that live there.

Little Soheap’s mom and grandmother have transformed a large pallet at their home into a comfortable nursery piled high with clothes, supplies and toys. He just celebrated his 1st birthday and his family is aware there will likely not be a second due to the severity of his hydrocephalus. But for today, they are proud of how well he is eating and are happy with the new 420200_610178085674891_936459482_npillow we brought to try and support his head. He arches his back to let his grandmother know he wants to be picked up and she carefully gathers him into her arms and gives him the bottle his mother has prepared. Roza, our Safe Haven project manager, spends a few moments talking to the family to see how they are doing as well. Caring for Sopheap requires a lot of teamwork. He needs constant care and the whole family pitches in to make sure his needs are met. Soheap’s grandfather and mother have had a skin rash that has not gotten better and Jess examines the rash before digging through her endless bags of supplies and producing a topical cream for them to try.

Although our official mission statement says that we are a therapeutic and medical outreach for children with disabilities and medical needs, providing a measure of support for the whole family is equally as important. Many of these families sacrifice so much in order to try and do the very best for their children. There are missed days in the rice field because a child needs to come to the hospital or an older brother or sister who cannot go to school because they are caring for their sibling so they are not left alone. Taking the time to listen to our families and provide them with whatever support we can goes a long way towards strengthening those bonds which are vital to the success of a child’s care. In everyday life, people toss out the phrase “How are you?” without ever really expecting an honest answer. Most of us cannot comprehend what life would be like if everything we had was stripped away. If we had no resources to do anything to help our children or ourselves. If we found ourselves viewing the gift of a filter so our children could drink clean water a luxury.

482440_610178315674868_716617587_nIn addition to visiting the Safe Haven families, Roza spends a lot of time on the phone calling families to check in with them and find out how things are going. Sometimes, parents call him if they have questions and often, they can be the same questions Roza may have answered on another day. But his kindness and patience never wavers. When I first met him and interviewed him for the job, he had zero experience working for an NGO or children with disabilities. But he told me something I never forget. He told me about a time his little daughter was in the hospital after a motorbike accident and how scared he was as a parent to feel helpless and uncertain, with no one to explain things to him or ask him how he was coping. He told me he believed he would be able to understand what these Safe Haven parents were feeling. That deep empathy is what makes him an amazing man and Safe Haven team member.

He cares. He listens.

And having someone do that may be the best creature comfort of them all.

The post Notes From The Field: Creature Comforts appeared first on Safe Haven Medical Outreach.

644327_607408512618515_1470287191_nI am prowling the aisles of Angkor Market desperately trying to find a brand of coffee that will both work with my $4 French coffee press and not be of Cambodian or Vietnamese origin. Southeast Asian brands of coffee tend to have a natural sweetness and since I like my coffee black without any sugar, I’m in dire need of bean with more hints of bitter. Mind you, I don’t dislike the Cambodian version enough to not drink it in the morning. I’ve been told on more than one occasion I am a bad “waker upper” and could probably use all the sweetness I can get before inflicting my presence on other people. Pheakdey, our physical therapist, once happily prepared me a mug of the Cambodian brew she likes to drink, laced with extra sugar and condensed sweetened milk and I wasn’t sure if my heart was going to race right out of my chest or if I was going to fall into a diabetic coma. I spot a package of Melitta, pounce on it with more eagerness than is possibly appropriate in public and gently caress the words “ Dark French Roast.”

Back at the new office/house, even though it is a Saturday, I let Jess putter around labeling everything while I boil up some water. The bitter goodness makes me so happy, I don’t even mind the gritty aftertaste because the French press filter doesn’t actually fit properly. My new landlord Megan stops in to say hello and I’m puzzled by the insanely loud squeaking sound coming from outside. It reminds me of when my basset hound Sam finds a particularly annoying chew toy, usually when I am on an important business call, and is enthusiastically squeaking it for all she is worth. My air conditioner sometimes makes alarming noises which usually is the signal to me that it is time to grab a room fan. Megan informs me it is actually the sound of the recycling guys calling for people to bring out their cans. Even though it is not quite dead yet, I am visualizing tossing my can of sweet coffee right into their waiting wagon. I take another grateful sip of my gritty brew and chew on the after grounds.

482440_610178315674868_716617587_nIt has been a hectic, but productive week for our Safe Haven Medical Outreach team. In between scheduled appointments at Handicap International and Angkor Hospital For Children, Jess, Roza and I been doing a number of home health visits while Pheakdey and Marguerite have been seeing kids on their rotation for physical, speech and occupational therapy. There are also ten new kids in our program since I was here last and I’m meeting some of our families for the first time. There have been both highs and lows. At little Lea’s house, she enthralls her captive audience by rolling over. This is a huge milestone for her. She has come a long way from the malnourished infant our Safe Haven team first met. Her grandmother has patiently learned feeding techniques which, combined with the nutritional supplements Safe Haven provides to help boost her weight, have really started to pay off. We cheer and lavish praise and Lea does an encore by adding a few more rolls right to the edge of the platform. Jess points out the one step forward in development usually means a half dozen new things the family now needs to pay attention too. When she just lay motionless in a corner, they didn’t need to worry about her falling out of the hut. But now she is a toddler in motion! I decide to capture the moment for posterity and whip out my iPhone but little Lea has had enough rolling for one day and decides the fingers on her hand are way more interesting than Jess shaking her giant ring of keys enticingly just out of each. Lea also has benefited from additional play stimulation from the generous donation of a play mat with a toy mobile from a fellow Siem Reap based NGO called the Green Gecko.

At Sareum’s house, a regular home visit turns out to be a something more. Little Sareum is running a fever from an infection. He had fallen down earlier in the week and the wound had gotten infected. Despite the fact that she winds up having to juggle a tremendous array of bags on her motorbike, Jess never likes to be unprepared. You never know what you may come across when you are out in the field and that certainly pays off as she cleans and covers the wound and treats him for the infection and fever. She gently instructs his mother on ways to cool down his body by dipping a towel in cold water and wiping his heated skin with it. But her medical Mary Poppins bags are not just all for business. She pulls out a red balloon and blows it up. His discomfort from his fever and wound is momentarily forgotten as he clutches the balloon and giggles with delight each time he heaves it off the side of the hut’s platform and his mother, like all mothers, runs to get it every time.

164474_607409002618466_1989940972_nHis father comes walking back home with a load of sugar cane sap in buckets strapped across his shoulders. The family supports themselves by making sugar. Much like making maple syrup, it takes a lot of sap to boil down into sugar, which they do over a large open fire in a giant cauldron. Sareum’s mom pulls out a couple of mugs and fills one for Roza to drink. Jess tries to sneak away from the scene unobtrusively so she doesn’t have to refuse the offered beverage. Earlier in the visit, I had watched a stray dog climb into the cooling vat and drink the dredges of the syrupy sap from the bottom so I wasn’t too keen on sampling the product myself. Luckily, Roza took one for the team and after he drank his mug, we were able to say our goodbyes along with strict instructions they were to call if the fever had not improved within a day or two. Roza made a note to place a follow up call as well in case they forget and we were back on the road again.

The busy week left very little time to set up the new house I just rented to serve both as an office for Safe Haven and a residence for me when I am in Cambodia, which is how Jess and I found ourselves spending the weekend getting organized. Megan proved herself to be the best landlord ever with the offer of a cold beer after a particularly dusty and hot day out in the field and I tried to return the favor by stocking my tiny refrigerator with a couple of cans of Angkor. The fact that there is nothing in my refrigerator yet but two cans of Angkor and a bottle of water leaves me just one bottle of condiment away from stepping right back in time to my freshman year of college.

182678_607409155951784_228934719_nWe closed out the week with a fantastic evening at Rosy’s Guest House where Quiz Master Steve McMurray hosted a Music Quiz Night fund raiser for Safe Haven. The quiz nights are held every so often with a different NGO benefiting. Jess had posted on an Expat message board looking for insights into what people missed from back home and I had come armed with a variety of raffle prizes to suit those needs. I’ve never seen such excitement over an OXO can opener and a set of cotton sheets before. Depsite the fact it was self defeating to buy raffle tickets to my own fund raiser, I invested $5 hoping to win my own prize of sheets back. After shopping for sheets for my bed earlier in the day, I had a whole new appreciation for the ruckus they were causing. It was really amazing to see all these fantastic members of the community come out to support Safe Haven and we raised $400, which was double what we were hoping for, despite the fact our fund raiser was competing with the Siem Reap Giant Puppet Parade fund raiser that same night. Frankly, any other night I would have wanted to be at the Giant Puppet event myself. Who doesn’t love giant puppets?

So as we gear up for another week, I sit here in my new house with the air con blissfully working. But since the guys who installed the air con cut the wires from the power outlet and ceiling fan in order to use them for the install, I don’t have either in my living room. I need to get them back out to fix it.

Right after another cup of coffee.

The post Notes From The Field: Is That Sound The Recycle Guy Or Just The Air Con Breaking? appeared first on Safe Haven Medical Outreach.

Rules To Live By

164474_607409002618466_1989940972_n  Almost every health organization, website and magazine proclaims that breakfast is the most important meal of the deal and as a rule, you should never skip it. I also have a rule: Try to avoid having to use a bathroom in middle of a remote village. This is a rule I have had firmly in place ever since a trip to a village outside Battambang while filming Small Voices. I’ll spare you all the details but it involved a hole, about a thousand flies and a bucket of water with a thin layer of green slime.

Since I strongly feel my rule trumps the breakfast rule, I always skip eating whenever I know I am going to be spending the day out visiting Safe Haven children. So it is with anticipation and an empty stomach that I climb up on the back of Roza’s motobike for our trip out to the Trapang Run and Bangkorng villages. Jess is on her own moto and in short order, we are battling with all of the Korean tour buses for space on the road as we head out of Siem Reap. It is an unspoken rule of the road that the larger the vehicle, the more you give way. In fact, it may be the only rule of the road that is followed with any regularity. It is a rule to live by since if you don’t follow it, you may not live. Motobikes and tour buses that find themselves occupying the same space do not often have positive outcomes, usually for the motobike. So it is with no small measure of good cheer that I’m happy to be off the main road and taking in the scenery as we head first to Kalin’s house. There is no one home when we arrive, which is not a surprise. It is difficult to contact Kalin’s family ahead of time as they do not have a cell phone that works on a regular basis. But one of the benefits of developing a close relationship with our families is that Roza was fairly certain where they might be. A cousin is getting married soon and everyone has been preparing at another family member’s house a short distance away. So Roza takes off in search of Kalin and his parents while I am drawn to the sounds of whimpering towards the back of the yard. I find a tiny puppy in a quivering heap who yelps in fear as I approach. There are any number of stray dogs and cats that live in the villages but don’t actually belong to anyone. As a general rule, dogs are not considered pets. In fact, in one memorable (or not so memorable) conversation with one of my documentary kids, I mentioned my new puppy and my doc kid mentioned the last time he had dog for dinner. I locate an old tin laying in the dirt, rustle up some water from a bucket and cautiously approach the puppy. Within moments, he is drinking from the tin and enthusiastically licking my hand but the sound of the approaching moto scared him off again.

377578_605034679522565_863239119_nIt’s Roza returning with little Kalin and his dad right behind him. Kalin is balanced between his father’s legs on the motobike and his dad is all smiles to see us. Kalin has a number of health issues and developmental delays but since Jess, our Safe Haven nurse, provided his family with a nebulizer to use at home, his lung capacity has improved tremendously. He is also been responding well to physical therapy which has helped him develop more core strength. We are here today for a basic home health check up. Jess listens to his heart and lungs, checks his pulse oxygen level and overall is very happy with how well he is doing. Kalin’s father breaks out his new walker and Kalin coos with delight when he sees it. His father gently lifts his son into position and patiently stands behind him supporting Kalin as he takes a few steps slowly along. For a boy who could barely sit up on his own a year ago, this is pretty awesome to see. Six steps is his version of Mt. Everest and his dad sits back down with him as Jess hands over new boxes of his nebulizer medication. Kalin wastes little time and opening up the boxes and dumping out the contents so he can play with the empty box. It is apparently an unspoken rule among all toddlers that they quickly try to dismantle whatever they can get their hands on, including my IPhone, which his dad rescues from his clutches and returns to me intact with a protective layer of drool on the screen. I think longingly of Clorox wipes as I rub the phone dry on my pants legs.

Before long we are back on our motos and headed off to see our next family. Kalin and his father are off as well on their way back to the wedding preparations. Kalin is perched back between his father’s legs as they roar off down the bumpy road on their motobike. I try not to wince as I wave goodbye from the back of Roza’s motobike wearing my $300 motorcycle helmet.

As we speed down the red dirt path cutting through the fields with their grazing cows and water buffalo, the quiet scenery is broken apart by a sudden blaring of Khmer music. An old man with a giant 1980’s style boom box is alone on the side of the road doing his best Say Anything impression Cambodian style. He has somehow wired it up to a couple of loud speakers on a pole. I’m unsure who he is playing the music for. The cows seems fairly uninterested and Ione Syke is nowhere in sight. Roza is equally as stumped when I ask and confesses he has no idea. I chalk it up to another of life’s little mysteries and hum “In Your Eyes” under my breath.

It is nearly lunchtime when we pull up to the simple wooden hut where Charam and Charan live with their parents and their little brother Pi. Both of the older boys suffer from degenerative disease. An exact diagnosis here can be difficult. But what is absolutely certain is that both their bodies are slowing breaking down. The oldest boy Charam is now completely wheelchair bound and unable to communicate. Charan, the middle child, is now using a walker. Thus far, Pi, the youngest brother, has not begun to show any of the symptoms that struck his brothers before him although he is now at the same age they were when the symptoms began. Our visit today is a result of a recent phone call from the parents that both of the older boys had suffered seizures a few days ago. This is cause for concern as both of the boys have been on seizure medication and been seizure free for quite some time. Jess is concerned they may have gotten a bad batch of medication during their last hospital visit. As she is talking with the parents, two more motobikes pull up. Pheakdey, Safe Haven’s physical therapist and Marguerite, Safe Haven’s volunteer occupational therapist have also arrived. I have given each of the boys a therapy toy and Pi and Charan are delighted with one called a Wiggly Ball. Poor Charam is letting us know he doesn’t like PT by groaning and making faces while Pheakdey works on his legs. She explains the muscles in his legs are particularly tight today.

377613_605034552855911_2140203704_nLuckily, Charam is spared further leg exercises when his mother sits down next to him to feed him lunch. Charam has trouble swallowing and his food must be carefully prepared for him to eat it. His mother uses a food mill to grind up the rice and has carefully shredded up bits of fish into the mushy porridge called Bobor. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Karen Froud of SLP Cambodia, who has spent countless hours, along with other members of her Speech-Language Pathology team, providing a feeding and swallowing assessment and training for Charam’s parents. Their invaluable intervention which they provide free of charge to our Safe Haven kids and other children in need in Cambodia, helps save lives and provides much needed services for children with disabilities. Charam and Charan’s parents haven taken to heart everything they have learn from our Safe Haven team and from ISE Cambodia and have dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to the care of their sons. They are an inspiration to our whole team.

Jess has sussed out the cause of the recent seizure in the younger Charan which was misunderstanding about the dosage. Thankfully, the issue was resolved. Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve the mystery of the recent seizure in Charam. Everything seems in order with his medication and dosage. As Charam continues to deteriorate, no one is quite sure what to expect and the recent seizure could be a sign of things to come. Uncertainty is often the one thing we can count on.

Pi, the youngest, laughs with delight as I throw him the wiggly ball and he catches it with the assurance of youth, unhampered by the physical difficulties that plague his older brothers. His future is uncertain. But today, as I watch him take the ball and try to play catch with Charan standing balanced in his walker, I think I’ll have gratitude for his current health. For the care and love his parents have for their disabled sons. For the dedicated individuals on the Safe Haven staff who manage to do so much with such limited resources. And for all the blessings in life that have led me here.

That is an excellent rule to live by.

The post Rules To Live By appeared first on Safe Haven Medical Outreach.

64821_604229062936460_972408350_nTraveling to Siem Reap by taxi is a lot like being in a live version of an arcade driving game. You are not obligated to ever stay on one side of the road. In fact, swerving all over is a must for avoiding any number of obstacles that might pop up along the way: Water buffalo, rickshaws, mottos or pick up trucks piled high with people. And just like an old arcade game, if you crash your car into any obstacles, there is a good chance it will explode in a massive fireball since it is running off of a modified tank of propane in the trunk. I’m always a bit nervous when we stop for fuel, pop the trunk and fill it up with said propane. Mostly because I still haven’t figured out why this act requires two men to also shake the car as hard as possible from side to side. Frankly, I probably don’t want to know the answer to that question.

As always, I’m deeply grateful to arrive in Siem Reap in one piece. Although I wish I had more time in Phnon Penh with my Small Voices documentary kids, I’ve been anxious to get back to Siem Reap to meet up with my Safe Haven staff and jump back into action. Normally, I try to be in Cambodia three times a year, but I have not been back since last May. A car wreck in August effectively put me out of commission and I had to cancel my return to Cambodia. While my staff and the Safe Haven kids have been accomplishing amazing milestones since my last trip, there are a host of administrative issues I need to deal with in person. Plus I am hauling a huge amount of much needed medical supplies that our amazing friends, family and supporters have donated for our kids. My taxi driver pulls up in front of the Seven Candles Guesthouse which is also home to the Ponheary Ly Foundation, a wonderful local NGO that provides impoverished village children the 164474_607409002618466_1989940972_nopportunity to have access to the same quality of education as their urban counterparts. My friend and Safe Haven nurse, Jess Whitney, is friends with Ponheary Ly’s president, Lori, who has graciously helped to facilitate my stay here via email introductions with the Seven Candles management. A young Cambodian man at the front desk insists on carrying my bags up the stairs. I’m fairly certain by the bulging veins in his forehead as he heaves up the army duffle bag containing 100 lbs of vitamins that he was probably rethinking his gallant offer. It takes three staff plus myself to lug the luggage up the stairs. We pass a group of Expats smoking on a patio on the 2nd floor who remark that I really didn’t need to bring that many suitcases. I thought about stopping to explain I wasn’t a clothes diva but I decided to save all my energy for the next flight of stairs.

531623_604232396269460_471108265_nAfter the bags are safely tucked into the room, I saunter up to the rooftop lounge to meet Jess. I begin to suspect she is on cozy terms with the staff when she waltzes into the room, walks behind the bar and helps herself to two beers from the refrigerator. I’m pleased to see her and not just because she is handing me a cold, frosty beer. Jess has been an invaluable member of the Safe Haven team ever since I was introduced to her by a mutual friend at a Collaboration Cambodia meeting. We have a mini catch up, both of us excited about the next couple of weeks which will include not only our work out in the field, but meetings with two new potential staff members and a Safe Haven fund raiser. In fact, the Safe Haven staff is already one person larger than when I left it in May. Marguerite McCann, an occupational therapist from Essex, is currently volunteering her time and skills with our Safe Haven kids and I have been looking forward to finally meeting her in person.

534832_604229536269746_1079192782_nI get a chance to do just that early Monday morning at our staff meeting. Jess has offered to hold the meeting on her balcony. Our tiny two room office is overflowing with supplies and we have completely outgrown the space. One of the things on my To Do list is to find a house to rent that we can use both as an office and I can use as a residence when I am here. Jess, Roza, my project manager and Pheakdey, my physical therapist, are all hoping for something on the 1st floor. Our current office is on the 3rd floor and everyone would be happy to not have to haul supplies up and down the narrow staircase in the blazing heat. Jess has a friend who rents a house and lives on the 2nd floor but is looking to rent out the 1st floor. We make plans to look at it later in the day. Meanwhile, we get down to the business of planning our schedule for the next two weeks. It doesn’t take long to fill each day with hospital and home health visits, starting with a trip to Handicap International that very afternoon to see Sao.

538234_604225839603449_1078773002_n8 year old Sao has been with Safe Haven since the beginning of the program back in late 2009, when it was just Roza and myself going out into the villages and trying to establish relationships with the village chiefs and families who had children with complex disabilities and medical issues. She was a shy little girl who suffered from bilateral club feet that were so turned inward, she stood on her ankle bones. Unable to walk anything more than short distances, she wasn’t able to attend school. Roza spent months building up trust and a relationship with Sao’s family. By the time our team grew to include Jess and Pheakdey, we had developed a partnership with the Children’s Surgical Center in Phnom Penh and arranged to have Sao brought there to have multiple surgeries to correct her feet. It was a long journey spanning nearly two years through the surgeries, the continuous follow up care Safe Haven provided out in her village and the subsequent months of physical therapy and brace fittings to bring Sao to where she is today: Walking completely flat footed without any pain and attending school full time.

Pheakdey, Safe Haven’s physical therapist, came to us fro538252_604232716269428_958102875_nm a previous job at Handicap International and she has been instrumental in facilitating a relationship with the local Khmer branch of the organization. They help provide our Safe Haven kids with wheelchairs, walkers and other assistive devices for a small fee. Sao is there this week with Pheakdey to get fitted for a new set of braces. Roza and I join them in the large outdoor room which is filled with all kinds of therapeutic obstacles. Sao is navigating her way across a balance beam when we arrive and she is quick to run over, jump in my arms and give me a hug. Just the fact that she can run gives me chills. In my minds eye I can still see the little girl who wouldn’t smile and shuffled painfully off to the side the first time I saw her. Now she flashes me a big smile and shows off her balancing skills by walking across a bridge made up of swinging planks. She scoots up one side and down the other and then poses for me at the end with a grin. I give her a high five and then she is off and running again.

She has a lot more obstacles she wants to conquer.

The post Notes From The Field – Obstacles appeared first on Safe Haven Medical Outreach.

It is Sunday morning in Siem Reap, and I know that in 12 hours or so, Heather will arrive from Phnom Penh. We have two busy weeks to look forward to – there are new Safe Haven kids for Heather to meet, new supplies to be unpacked and stored, new staff to be introduced, and who knows what sorts of errands and other running around to do. Heather hasn’t been in Siem Reap for many months, and there is so much to catch up about – despite the multiple emails every week, some things are best discussed and explored face-to-face.

There are 9 or 10 new children and families for Heather to meet. We now serve a handful of younger children, giving us the opportunity to provide earlier intervention and preventive services. The original idea for Safe Haven was to build a school for children with disabilities, so the target age was 4-16 years. As Safe Haven has evolved and become what it is now, a medical outreach program, we have more actively sought and included younger children, and we now have two toddlers who are relatively intensive in their needs. This is where my experience back in Vermont is most useful – for 20+ years I was a visiting nurse for families with young children, and this is what I know how to do best. On the other hand, despite whatever challenges those families in Vermont had, there are challenges here I could never have imagined. Besides the obvious language barrier (thank goodness for excellent translators!) and cultural differences, I have never seen a child with untreated hydrocephalus before, let alone developed a care plan for such a child. Some solid medical knowledge and a bit of creativity can go a long way, but there is still so much I am learning.

I am so fortunate to have such wonderful resources available, despite the general scarcity of such in Cambodia. Safe Haven has a Khmer physical therapist with many years of experience working at Handicap International. We have just welcomed a volunteer occupational therapist who is from the UK but has several years experience living in Cambodia and working with children with disabilities. We have speech language therapists who come from New York 2-3 times per year to assess children, consult and train us. I have three doctor friends, one of whom lives here and two who visit once or twice a year, who are available as needed to offer advice or direction via email or in person.

And we have Heather, who made this whole thing happen. Without Heather’s original vision, Safe Haven wouldn’t exist. Without Heather’s funding, Safe Haven wouldn’t exist. And without Safe Haven, more than 50 kids and families whose lives have been touched and improved by intervention would potentially be suffering at home without medications, without therapy, without awareness that improvement was even possible. Those who have donated money or vitamins or medical supplies or therapy equipment have also made this happen. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this so far – everything you contribute is deeply appreciated and lovingly put to good use – and my deep gratitude to Heather for creating something from nothing.

My hope is that Safe Haven will continue to grow, slowly and carefully and thoughtfully. I hope we can water and feed and nurture the seed that Heather planted and watch it become a strong and sturdy tree creating shade and a safe haven for those who need it. Things grow quickly here in this climate – with the right conditions, it shouldn’t take that long.

The post Notes From The Field by Safe Haven Nurse Jess Whitney appeared first on Safe Haven Medical Outreach.

It’s 4am Thursday morning, the car service is waiting outside to take me to LAX and I’m still trying to do last minute shuffling to fit everything into my bags to leave for Cambodia. The last two puzzle pieces are my personal toiletries and a supporting neck pillow we bought for one of our Safe Haven toddlers who has hydrocephalus, a fluid build up on the brain which causes his head to grow abnormally large. I manage to shove the bag of toiletries into my army duffel bag but the pillow will just not fit so I take it out of the packaging and simply stick it around my neck. Now I just have to remember not to leave it on any of the four flights I have to take on my way to Cambodia.

In an attempt to be as economical as possible, I’m using a creative combination of miles and global upgrade certificates to plot my journey back to my second home in Southeast Asia. My crazy travel life has resulted in a lot of frequent flier perks that often come with a lot of fine print. For example, somewhere in United Airlines handbook is a rule that states if one tries to use hard earned reward points, one must take the most convoluted flight path possible in order to arrive at one’s final destination.

I heave my two large duffel bags on the scale during check in and try to look nonchalant when they are both well overweight. Heck, my carry on bags are overweight but thankfully no one is going to weigh those before I board. My job is to just look like I am not about to collapse in a heap when I swing the hefty backpack over my shoulders. Luckily, a perk without fine print for my travel status is my ability to take five bags for free and they can be overweight without penalty. Because of this, I have crammed every last medical supply and therapy toy possible into my suitcases. We have been running very low on children’s vitamins with iron. Many of our Safe Haven kids are anemic due to their poor diets. Thanks to Safe Haven Medical Outreach donors, there is a virtual pharmacy in my bags. I have a recurring nightmare that TSA is going to scan the army duffel, see the 40 vials of liquid children’s vitamins and plastic nebulizer tubing and think I am setting up a meth lab. I’ve stuck a sheet of paper in each duffel which has Safe Haven’s federal non profit ID and a inventory of the supplies I am transporting. The man checking me in graciously offers to check the bags all the way through to Phnom Penh even though my last leg of travel is with a different airline. He nearly topples over trying to swing the bags onto the conveyor belt and I send up a silent prayer they will make it all the way to my destination intact and on time.

My 1st flight to Seattle gets off to a rocky start. The jet way broke so we all tromped down two flights of stairs to get to the tiny commuter jet. “Why can’t United have a direct flight to Tokyo?” I was crankily thinking as I hefted my 100 lb. roller board onto the planeside check in cart. The overly stuffed backpack would not fit in the overhead bin and through sheer force, I crammed it under my seat and hoped I didn’t rupture my computer screen in the process. By the time the plane was aloft and bouncing about in the turbulent air, I was more than ready for a nerve calming cocktail. Except on tiny commuter flights, they only have coffee, water and orange juice. The flight attendant came down the aisle enthusiastically peddling breakfast snack boxes and extoling the virtues of the prepackaged pieces of toast, a statement I greeted with some skepticism. She seemed so excited, I didn’t have the heart to point out that is was actually just an overly large, stale crouton so I simply unwrapped it from its bunker surviving packaging and day dreamed about the delicious foods my niece Becka was probably enjoying at Army basic training.

Once in Seattle, I casted about for info on my gate for my flight to Tokyo. One shuttle, four escalators and 3636 steps later, according to my UP fitness bracelet, I made my way to there. As I wearily shrugged the heavy pack from my shoulders and collapsed into a chair, UP bracelet helpfully let me know I had burned 260 calories in the journey to my gate, which I suppose I should have felt empowered over, but mostly I just felt envious of the little old ladies who went by me on those motorized carts.

Wheels up, wheels down. Wheels up, wheels down. LAX-Seattle-Tokyo-Bangkok. At midnight Saturday, I arrived in Bangkok and beelined for the terminal hotel rental rooms to grab a quick power nap before my 8am flight to Phnom Penh. Despite only getting four hours of uneasy rest, I felt pretty envirgorated waiting for my final flight. This was the last leg before I would be back again in the county I first fell in love with in 2006 when I started filming my documentary Small Voices: The Stories Of Cambodia’s Children. A journey that started 7 years ago with a film and has led to the creation of the Safe Haven Medical Outreach program. At the other end of this final flight, the kids from my documentary would be waiting for me to arrive for a two day visit before I have to head to Siem Reap to meet up with my Safe Haven staff and get back to work.

Weighing heavily on my mind is 9 year old Lina. Only a toddler of 2 years old when I first met her begging on the streets of Phnom Pen with her older brother Charam, Lina has wound up back on the streets. When she was 6, I had found a small NGO that had room to take her in and for the past couple of years, we worked hard to try and adapt Lina to life off of the street and enroll her in school. Unfortunately, despite the staff’s best effort, Lina was unable to adapt to a structured life and school and wanted only to either be with her older brother Charam or back on the streets with her baby brothers. Repeated requests to enroll her at the Cambodian Children’ Fund with Charam have not come to fruition and Lina is back to living on a sidewalk. I worry about her constantly and finding her once I land and get settled at the hotel was a top priority. Finding a transient child living on the streets of a city is not an easy task and sadly, one that I had grown used to with Lina in years past and now must do again.

Once in Phnom Penh, I’m relieved to see all of the bags have arrived and I skipped jauntily outside into the blazing heat and humidity. The driver for The Quay Hotel looks around in confusion. “Just you? All these bags? ” he asks with a puzzled glance at my cart piled high with all of the luggage. I start to go into a lengthy explanation but it is lost with his limited English. I settle on a simple, “Supplies for poor kids in village” and clamber into the back of the car where I spent a few fruitless moments looking for a working seat belt. I never find one but hope springs eternal. My driver snaps on the radio and begins to sing along with some Khmer club music. I stare at the giant stuffed dog I am inexplicidely sharing the back seat with and wish heartily I hadn’t left my ear plugs on the plane.

The staff at The Quay welcomes me back and fusses over the fact I will only be in Phnom Penh for 2 days this trip. It is good practice for when I see my documentary kids who are absolutely going to have a fit that I can’t stay longer. Six kids who were born into extreme poverty and survived picking garbage and begging on the streets before getting a second chance through education, I have loved and watched these young men and women grow up and they are family. And like family, they both love the work I do with Safe Haven but lament the time it takes me away from them.

I don’t want to waste a minute of that time, so I grab tuk tuk and hustle over to CCF where all my doc kids, except for Lina, currently live. And thank God, nestled next to her brother Charam at the student assembly that is going on, is my little street urchin. Lina had made her way there to visit her brother for the weekend. Within minutes, I have my arms around all of them and the last 33 hours of travel melts away under the warmth of their happiness and love. I settle into a chair and Lina rests her head on my shoulder. She beams, gives me a quick kiss on the cheek and says, “Mak Tor, did you miss me? Are you happy to see me? Do you love me?”

Yes, yes and yes.

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