On 27 April 2018, a team of 43 volunteers from Tzu Chi Merit Organization (Singapore), 8 of whom were healthcare professionals, arrived at Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They collaborated with local Tzu Chi volunteers to hold a relief distribution cum free clinic for impoverished residents living around Dangkor Landfill. The residents were even given free nail and hair-cuts, as well as clean showers. Traditional Chinese Medicine was a new addition to the medical services, which previously only included internal medicine and dental services.
At the waiting area beneath a tent, volunteers led the locals through some recreational activities, such as sign language, movement and songs. The initially shy locals started moving their body and limbs to the rhythm of the lively music after becoming more familiar with the volunteers. At the distribution site, volunteers shared with the residents good personal hygiene habits.
“You will feel itchy if you don’t take a shower, but you must not scratch yourself when you feel itchy. What you can do is to gently pat on the itchy spot,” explained a volunteer.
With the help of some graphics, the volunteers explained to the locals that skin that is broken from scratching may lead to inflammation if the wound is not properly treated. While viewing the ghastly photos of festering wounds, some of the locals covered their eyes while some children cried out with shock. The volunteers also reminded the locals to put on their shoes when they went out, so as to protect their feet from sharp objects on the ground. If they ever got injured while walking, they must wash the wound with clean water and quickly sought medical treatment.
“Do not simply throw away the packaging. We must keep the environment clean,” a volunteer stressed to the children.
A group of volunteers guided the children to pick up rubbish from the surroundings, in the hope that they would not only take care of their personal hygiene, but also help to maintain the cleanliness of the environment. It was hoped that after the hands-on experience, the kids would develop the habit of throwing their rubbish into a trash bin.
“Do you wash your hands before you eat?”
Some children raised their hands while some quietly shook their head.
“You have to wash your hands before you eat, if not, you will have a stomachache when you take the food with dirty hands!” said volunteer Chen Hui En.
“At the beginning, some of the kids were a bit shy. But they appeared to enjoy the lesson after a while. I hope that the parents are able to let their children attend school. The teachers in school can also teach the children about environmental protection and personal hygiene (with what we have taught them),” said Chen who was participating in Tzu Chi’s free medical mission for the first time.
Chen also praised local volunteer, Yang Mei Mei, for quickly putting what she had learned into practice by sharing with the crowd using the local language, shortly after observing how Tzu Chi volunteers led the group. Chen hoped that she would have more future opportunities to work together with the local volunteers, to promote personal hygiene and sanitation.
“When I get home, I will tell my parents to wear shoes when they go out to work, to avoid being injured by sharp objects, and I will also tell them that they must wash their hands after using the washroom, and before a meal,” said 12-year-old Phorn Sreynek. She still remembered to bring a water bottle to school every day, a practice encouraged by a Tzu Chi volunteer during the previous relief distribution event.
A total of 287 consultations and treatments were provided during this free clinic. Many of the locals who went into the TCM clinic with a gloomy face came out smiling, after receiving appropriate treatments for their ailments.
Yem Sokhon was one of those who was relieved of her knee and back pain after trying acupuncture treatment for the first time. “My headache is gone and my back no longer hurts so much. I can return to work now!” he said happily.
The person in charge of Tzu Chi Cambodia, Xie Ming Xun, urged the local parents to register themselves with the landfill committee so that their children would have the opportunity to receive an education. The committee would be working with Tzu Chi to start an education initiative where volunteers from the Foundation would visit impoverished families around the landfill who have registered themselves, and assist their children with school admission procedures. After registration, their children would have the chance to go to school, and education is the only way for their children to escape the poverty cycle.
“We hope that the children are able to complete 9 to 12 years of education. It is only possible for the children to have a bright future through education,” said the Landfill’s manager, Keo Channarith, when promoting the education initiative to the locals.
He encouraged the parents to send their children to school, and told them that if they were concerned about their finances, the committee and Tzu Chi would continue to support them with free clinic services and aid supplies.
Keo added, “Let us send the kids to school. Classes are tentatively scheduled to start this October. This is a government funded school, so it is free of charge. But parents will have to spend some money on stationery and school uniforms for their children.”
Leng Sokun, who had come to collect rice from Tzu Chi, scrimped and saved every day to send her three sons to school. When she learned about the education initiative, she was very glad that her daughter finally had the chance to go to school, too. She said that she would register her daughter for school although she has already exceeded schooling age.
The word “orkun”, which means “thank you” in Khmer (the local language), could often be heard during the relief distribution and free clinic mission. As the volunteers and locals thanked each other in gratitude and exchanged well wishes, the event was brought to a heartwarming conclusion.