In 2002 I had a big decision to make. I had been living quite comfortably in Phnom Penh while traveling out to the Wat Opot Project once a week to check on the families and oversee progress on the building that would one day house a clinic and possibly a hospice unit for AIDS victims. It had never occurred to me that I would one day leave the comforts of the big city to live in a rural setting without electricity or the many other Western comforts I was used to and with people whom I did not know. A visit to one of the sick children, however, changed all of that.
Chhang and his mother were both HIV positive… we had been supporting them with rice and fish for a few months but their condition was deteriorating. At the time there were no medicines available in Cambodia and the most we could do was try to make their final days as comfortable as possible. Chhang was running a high fever and I did not feel comfortable leaving him in the care of his family, so I told Vandin to have him and his mother come back to the Project and I would treat him there, even though we were not yet fully prepared to open. Although Chhang did improve for a while, his admission opened the door for others to follow, and the decision was made for me to take up residency at the Project.
That was over twenty years ago and things have changed a lot since then. I now live a very comfortable life at Wat Opot with a large group of people who are like family to me. The idea of moving back to Phnom Penh is scary because it has grown so much and I can’t get around nearly as well as I once could… still, many of the Watopotian Alumni now live and work there, Several are married and have children. Most are doing well but some still have problems at times and I would like to be able to be a part of their lives as well.
Wat Opot is doing well under the leadership of Dara and Scott and for that reason I have decided that I will move back to Phnom Penh and split the time I have left between them. I will keep you posted on my progress.