Hands of Healing in Cambodia

1 Jun 2006

After five years of brutal civil war, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in April 1975. They envisaged a perfect society where all were equal and all were rice-farmers. All cities and towns were evacuated, and the elimination or ‘purification’ of all urban dwellers was begun. Many died after being forced out into the hot waterless fields and many were executed. High on the list of targets were those with clean fingernails, spectacles, any foreign language and any education. Religion was also perceived to be unhelpful and Buddhist leaders were killed along with many Christians.

Cambodia is no longer under the rule of the Khmer Rouge.  However, effects of the devastation are still felt today.

Corruption is found at every level of government. The usual salary of US$20-25 per month is inadequate to support even one person, let alone a family. Many workers thus need to either take bribes or get other jobs. People applying for government positions are expected to ‘buy’ the position with a large initial payment. It is common for students to go to class and have no teacher because the teacher is elsewhere trying to earn a living. It is common for the monthly pay day to be moved later in each month so that there are only 10 or 11 ‘monthly’ pay days in the year. If a worker insists on timely payment, he will probably be offered only half of his salary and asked to sign for the total.

Looking around in Cambodia, there is a dearth of old men and particularly old doctors. Before the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975, Cambodia had about 950 physicians, trained in the French-speaking medical school. Only 38 survived the next four years, most by fleeing the country. When the medical school was re-opened in 1980, short practical training was given to quickly re-staff the country.

Since then, medical training has gradually improved. Many doctors have completed short periods of training overseas in the various specialties making a range of options available to those with money to pay for them. Options for the poor however, remain appalling. Doctors, nurses and other health workers constantly pressure patients for money and readily decline them treatment, which is often of very poor quality. As one ex-patriot doctor commented, with tears in his eyes, ‘these people suffer dreadfully at the hands of their doctors’. At the root of this is inadequate training and little understanding of professional responsibility.

The Story of Dr. Modich Chap – A Khmer Rouge Survivor

Dr Modich Chap was born in Phnom Pehn in 1973, the youngest of six children. In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge forced all Cambodians in the city to leave. Modich’s family walked about 100kms to his grandmother in Prey Veng province. Upon arrival his father was imprisoned, became very unwell while in prison and was killed there a year later.

The family was then moved frequently from place to place. All Modich’s siblings were taken away from their mother to live and work elsewhere. His mother repeatedly begged to keep Modich with her and was successful.

In 1979, when Modich was 6 years old, his mother heard that her family was to be taken and killed that night. She took Modich and ran away. She went to collect each of the other 5 children but found only 3 of them. His oldest and youngest brothers were presumed to have been killed. (This presumption has since been confirmed by the fact that neither has contacted family.)

As the family fled, his mother heard Khmer Rouge soldiers coming on horseback and hid in the forest with the children. They travelled through the forest into the mountains and were met by Vietnamese soldiers coming to free them. His mother had to choose whether to take the family across an open area to the safety of the Vietnamese. Modich remembers there were babies crying in the forest where they’d been abandoned – their crying would have drawn attention to their families. He saw ‘a lot of blood’ of people shot by the Khmer Rouge as they ran across the open field. It was a hard decision for his mother, but she took the family across the field and they reached safety.

After the Vietnamese took Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge, Modich’s mother sold a small amount of gold she had kept as security, and the family went by car back to Prey Veng. While they lived there, his mother farmed rice and his siblings helped. In 1983, his mother became ill and died the following year when Modich was 12 years old. He thinks she had a gynaecological cancer.

Modich moved in with his aunt and uncle and went to high school near their home. He had good results at school and made a little money helping classmates with their maths and driving a bicycle taxi. He then achieved well enough in exams to be offered scholarships to university. He chose medicine, and although his fees were paid, he had to support himself by tutoring. He also learnt English in a private school and eventually became the director of that school while still studying medicine.

In his 4th year in university, Modich became a Christian through a missionary lady named Sue. Modich has great love and respect for Sue who introduced him to Jesus and invested a lot of time and effort in discipling him.

Six months before his final examinations, Modich developed appendicitis. He remembers feeling and hearing ‘everything’ during his appendicectomy, thanks to an inadequate anaesthetic. He developed a wound infection which was not resolving. Sue asked a missionary doctor named Kendrick Kahler to treat him, and his infection improved. As a result of that meeting, Modich was asked to work with Kendrick in the Cooperative Services International (CSI) Clinic, which was opening in Phnom Penh at that time (late 2000). Modich is now the senior Khmer doctor in that clinic, and is highly-respected for his gentle heart and his clinical expertise.

Now he is in full-time work in the clinic, helping at mobile clinics for the poor, running his own private clinic in his house, and is involved with Bible studies twice a week. Modich also enjoys sport, especially running, lifting and soccer.

He hopes to get more training in the future and to be involved in teaching other doctors and students. He is so happy when he sees patients successfully treated.

“If people want to pray for you, what would you ask them to pray for?”
“To learn more; and a wife….. a spiritual wife”. *

The CSI Clinic

The CSI Clinic has served the church and the poor in Cambodia for five years. Referrals of sick and poor come from pastors, missionaries and doctors. Many come too late in their illness, having spent time and money on poor quality care.

Common problems include cancer, vitamin deficiencies, hypertension, heart disease, parasitic and bacterial infections including hookworm and leprosy, and anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders.  Injuries are common and often poorly-treated initially, with unnecessary deformity and disability resulting. We often cannot see all the people who come each day, but aim for quality rather than quantity.

Patients often ask Modich:’Why are you all treating me so well? What is going on here?’ The poor are not used to being treated with such respect.

The clinic seeks to train Khmer doctors and students, modelling quality care and professionalism in a setting of Christian love and respect. We trust the lives of many will be changed and the standard of medical care raised through the work of the CSI clinic.

*An update May 08: Modich now has a wife and small son and he is continuing to follow Jesus!

By MK – Pioneers Worker in Cambodia

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