Rhythms Villager, Katie McCallum, is on a two-week trip to visit Tearfund partner, the Cambodian Hope Organisation, in Poipet, Cambodia. She sent us her second update.
It’s the end of my fifth day in Poipet. I’m feeling fully adjusted to Cambodian culture, loving the food, the people and the funky patterned trousers. Visiting the local food market with the team was certainly an east-meets-west culture shock! It’ll take a long time to forget the smell of rotting fish and the squelch of chicken guts under my feet.
Yesterday afternoon we visited the HIV clinic that CHO runs in partnership with the Cambodian government. When we were first told we were going, I was expecting a very standard hospital room; patients, machines, doctors, medicines. A little like Casualty, but maybe more rural. I wasn’t prepared for the darkened concrete building that hosts some of the sickest HIV patients in Poipet. Eight wire beds and two very sick people. That was all.
Rea Trey, associate director at CHO, explained to us that one of the challenges that CHO faces at the clinic is the difficulty in caring for the families of the mothers who are so severely weakened by HIV; there just isn’t enough money to buy rice to feed everyone. My image of the hospital caring for the sick with machines and medicines was replaced by the face of a hungry child. That was a really hard hit. We’re talking about providing for basic needs, not high tech wizzy medical equipment. CHO are doing a great job ensuring those within their care are able to take their anti-retroviral drugs every month, and providing them with somewhere to stay. But often they can only provide a very basic level of care. Whilst we were at the clinic, Rea Trey said: ‘It makes me so sad to see the children. We don’t have enough rice, and it makes me so sad.’ He is a man of very few words, and he really meant these ones. He is a man full of God’s compassion. This puts to rest some of the turmoil that I feel when I find myself in the midst of a situation like the HIV clinic in the Poipet. Whilst there are people like Rea Trey standing with the broken and hurting, Jesus is also there.
Situations like these aren’t uncommon; this is the reality for many health care providers across the world. And it’s right that we should feel moved to action by stories like these, asking God what kind of response he requires from us. But what really hit me was the face of one of the women in the HIV clinic. I don’t know why faces grab me so much, but I think it has something to do with the eyes being a window to the soul. The issue was I couldn’t see her eyes, she hardly moved at all the whole time we were there, weakened by the HIV that is slowly killing her. And yet I convinced of the life that she still had in her; every breath she was able to breathe being a gift from God. There is some peace in the knowledge that this lady is in a place where her life is valued, even if it cannot be saved.