THE BOY WHO LIVED IN A BOX 

If you could spare me just a moment, I would like to tell you a story about a young boy who had a huge effect on me a few years back. Things were different then… HIV and AIDS were the main concern on everyone’s mind, especially here in Cambodia, where there was no medicine to treat it.  The fear of living with or even touching someone who was HIV Positive was very real and many victims spent the last days of their life sleeping on a cot under the house where the cows were kept because of this. There were only three hospices run by NGOs and Wat Opot was one of those. The military hospital in Phnom Penh had a large ward for AIDS victims, but only provided a cot to die in. The family was responsible for the care of the patient.

We got a call one morning from the hospital in Takeo, which was run by Doctors without Borders. A family had taken in a young relative, whose parents had both died of AIDS. They had the child tested and found out that he too was infected and would most likely die soon… and so they took him home, but because the family had children of their own, they didn’t want the young boy to stay in the house with them and so they built a box for the boy to die in under the house and would not let him out of the box to play with the other children. They would feed him and give him water but were careful not to touch him when doing so. He lived that way for several months, observing life as a spectator. He became weak and frail from having no exercise, but for some reason held on to Life. The family eventually got tired of caring for him and decided to take him to the hospital in Takeo. He was put in a small, windowless room and given IV fluids while the doctors evaluated his condition. The family left him alone in the room and, without saying goodbye, headed for home.

I left as soon as I got the call and drove the 30 Kilometers to the hospital, but by the time I arrived the doctors had already gone to lunch and only a nurse was there at the desk. She lead me to the dimly lit room where the boy was staying and pointed to the bed where he was lying. He had been crying but offered no resistance as I picked him up in my arms and carried him to the car. He was as light as a feather and seemed to melt into my arms… not wanting to let go as I put him into the back seat of the car. He slept most of the way home and was still groggy when I put him in bed.

By morning Kosal was wide awake and alert to the fact that he was no longer in a box. Other children were around and greeted him and even touched him as they helped him get dressed in new clothes. He couldn’t walk at first but by the third day, he was getting around on his own, and by the third week I was telling him to slow down because I was afraid he would hurt himself.

For the first time in his Life he was being treated as a normal child, and he was loving it… almost as much as he was being loved by those of us who watched him develop physically, mentally, and socially.

By 2004 the ARV medicines had arrived in Cambodia and most of our patients were put on them. The dying decreased and there was, at last, hope for our patients of having a normal life. Some of our younger patients, however, were already in the latter stages of AIDS, and prospects for their survival were less optimistic.

In January of 2005 Chhang, one of the other children and a friend of Kosal became sick and died a few hours later. When he died, I was holding his hand and as he took his final breath he shouted my name and a bright light shot out from his eyes and passed right through me. We cremated his body and as was the custom at the time everyone attended the service,.. except for Kosal. This was unusual behavior for him but I was too upset about Chhang’s passing to force him to go and so he stayed alone in the dorm.

The following day Kosal developed diarrhea which continued throughout the day and so the following morning I called the doctor, who recommended I take him in for a check-up. We were short-staffed at the time and so I asked the cook to take him in by motorcycle after finishing breakfast, thinking it would only be a short visit… but the doctor wanted him to stay overnight for IV therapy and so I told him to send the cook back to fix lunch, while I found someone else to take her place. They had put Kosal in the same dimly lit room as before but when the cook went in to tell him she was leaving he was sleeping and so she left him without saying anything.

I found someone who could spend the night at the hospital and sent her there by Tuktuk, but when she arrived at his room she found him dead. I was shocked when the Doctor told me to come and pick up his body. No explanation was given as to the cause of death because no one was in the room at the time of his passing. Hospitals at the time did not have nursing care and so it was not unusual that no one went in to check on him.

It was late afternoon by the time we got back to Wat Opot, so I decided we would do the cremation of his body in the morning. I laid him in the casket room and lit the incense and candle but as I looked down on his lifeless body I remembered the light coming from Chhang’s eyes when he died. Some Buddhists believe that the Spirit of the deceased, at times will linger in the area of the body and for that reason, they put out fruit, rice, and some money so that the Spirit will feel comfortable. A candle and incense are also kept burning for the same reason. That practice didn’t make any sense to me before Chhang’s death… but witnessing the Energy that shot out of his eyes completely changed my mind. 

Because Kosal was not very sick at the time, I wondered what it was he may have died from. He could have had a heart defect or possibly a reaction to the IV fluids, or… had he awakened in that dimly lit room and called for someone, and when no one came, felt he had been rejected again?

The thought that Kosal could be somewhere close by, brought tears to my eyes and I knew that there was no way I could let him spend the night alone in the holding room. I covered him with a blanket and then made my bed on the floor next to the casket and stayed with him until the cremation was over the following morning.

THE THINGS WE HAVE GONE THROUGH TOGETHER

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If you would like to be a sponsor of our community please go to the CONTACT page.

The Watopotians

COMMUNITY

In discussions that Giacomo has been having with the older children of Wat Opot, the concern of some is for the future… not only their future but the future of the world as well. They have access now, through their telephones and television, to all of the negative things happening, and like most of us, are not sure what kind of world will be waiting for them when they leave our community.

There is a lot of negative propaganda about orphanages or children’s communities like ours and some of the accusations made are legitimate. Whenever vulnerable children are involved, there are those that would take advantage of not only the children but also the opportunity to exploit them… for financial gain.

I grew up in the ’50s in post-war America and my family did not have much to live on… except for the hope of a better future. As a family, we had to work hard to survive. I remember my parents going out to buy groceries and when they returned we would run out to the car to help carry the bags in, but they told us to wait until dark. I didn’t understand it at the time but the food came from a government program and they didn’t want the neighbors to see the packages because they were embarrassed to have to depend on welfare.

As a result, I had to work hard in a small garden where we grew tomatoes and potatoes. I eventually got a job as a paperboy so that I could help with the family expenses. I didn’t see it as work, however… I was happy that I could contribute.

In much the same way, the Wat Opot community is structured on a similar concept. A majority of the work that is done here, is done by the children.

From catching fish to planting gardens in the heat of the day, there is always work to do and usually workers that want to do it. They are paid of course for their labor… I do not believe in giving things away for free because it encourages dependency, and for that reason, there are usually more workers than there is work to do.

Working and living together is what sets Wat Opot apart from other places and even other normal families. Having the opportunity to be a contributing member of a family or group is something that is missing in the lives of so many children today… and for that reason, I would suggest that our children have it better than many others, who must carry the baggage that comes from living in a dysfunctional family.

I dropped in on one of Giacamo’s sessions and they asked me what they could do to make a more positive future happen… I told them we are already doing it.

THE THINGS WE HAVE GONE THROUGH TOGETHER

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If you would like to be a sponsor of our community please go to the CONTACT page.

The Watopotians

SPECIAL SUNDAY

Yesterday we got a call from Mr. Chansovandara Hong, saying he would like to come out with some of his friends to meet the kids.

They arrived at about 9 AM loaded with supplies and gifts for the kids.

After the introductions, they handed out personal gifts to all of the children including school books and supplies, snacks, soap, and the children’s favorite drinks ( and mine) 2 cans of Coke.

It was a great way to start out the morning however most of the children decided to drink both cans of Coke and so to get them down from their high after lunch, Mr. Somoeun decided to take most of the kids to Chisol Mountain to burn off some of their energy.

It is a long way to the top, too far for me to go anymore, but for the children, it was no problem.

It was a good experience for all of the children since it was the first time in over two years they have been on any kind of field trip. We are hoping that someday soon we can take a longer trip… perhaps to the coast.

Not everyone could make the climb on their own but Mr. Somoeun was there to help our newest and youngest child make it to the top.

It was a good day for everyone and we are so very grateful to all of our supporters for making memorable days like this one possible.

Thanks for stopping in!

If you would like to be a sponsor of our community please go to the CONTACT page.

The Watopotians

UNEXPECTED ARRIVALS

We have been working on the papers for three new children but have not yet arranged a time to meet with the authorities. For that reason when Mr. Somoeun told me to get ready to pick up two children I at first thought it was the case we were working on but instead, it was a new case involving two newly abandoned children.

The authorities were waiting for us with the children at the commune office and Mr. Somoeun and his assistant Chavmean started the paperwork…

while the children patiently waited for the adults to decide their fate.

It was all over in about an hour’s time and we now have two more new Watopotians.

Thanks for stopping in!

If you would like to be a sponsor of our community please go to the CONTACT page.

The Watopotians

VOLUNTEERING AT WAT OPOT

The COVID restrictions are lifted and it is now time to start thinking about that Life changing experience of volunteering at Wat Opot.

Grace from Canada was our first volunteer in this new post-Covid era and stayed for a month.

Next came Giacomo from Finland / Italy, who is staying for a couple of months. This is his second visit, the first being a one-year tour before the Covid outbreak.

Last week it was Phil and Bronwyn from New Zealand who spent a week of their travel time with us to fix playground equipment. Phil has been here several times before.

No experience is necessary… stay at your own risk and expense and if you have a good time a little cash donation would be helpful in the end but not necessary. We are a community and enjoy sharing our daily life with others. For more information send your inquiry to wocommunity@gmail.com.

Wat Opot children with community children who study with us in the afternoon. So much potential with just a little supervision and guidance.

Thanks for stopping in!

If you can not volunteer at this time but would like to support our community, please check the “CONTACT” page to see how to send your donations.

The Watopotians

PANHA CHIET UNIVERSITY VISITS WAT OPOT

We were honored to have Professor Chem Oun and his colleagues visit us this past Sunday. They brought with them rice, noodles, and sauces for our daily needs…

But also COKE and sandwiches for each of the children and staff.

 In a time when international support for communities like ours is dwindling… it is good to know that the Khmer people are stepping in to give us assistance.

 We are very grateful to them and to all who continue to support and encourage us.

The Watopotians

BACK IN BUSINESS

The uncertainties of the past couple of years have had a huge effect on our program… and on me. I was all set to retire in 2020 and had purchased a one-way business class ticket home, thinking it would be my last flight to anywhere, so I might as well enjoy it. The COVID Pandemic changed all of that of course, as my flight was canceled. I don’t regret that however, because we ended up playing an important role in the cremations of nearly 200 victims of COVID… and with the funds we received for doing them, we were able to continue caring for the children in our custody. Grants from the Sakka Foundation and our friends in Taiwan also sustained us, along with donations and gifts from others… however, most of that support has now been terminated because of the anti-orphanage campaigns or conditions resulting from China’s present aggressive behavior toward Taiwan. Don’t get me wrong… this is not a plea for money but I would be lying if I told you that I was not concerned for the future of our community. Other orphanages and group homes are closing down because of a lack of funds and for that reason when Social Services called and said they had six new children who they needed to place, my initial response was to say NO, for the first time in our communities history. After hearing the stories of the children, however, I had to reconsider.

Today we took in the first of the six children referred to us. A seven-year-old boy who has been taken out of his family for reasons I can not make known in this writing. We do not know the extent of damage done to him at this point… that will come out in time. He has never attended school.

Times have changed and what use to be a simple agreement with a guardian to take over a Childs care, is now a process involving several people. Paperwork has to be filled out and signed by Social Services and government officials.

 Our Director Mr. Somoeun and his assistant Chavmean do most of the paperwork…

 While social services and government officials wait to approve and stamp the papers with their Seal and add their fingerprints to make the papers legal.

The process takes about an hour and so there is time to discuss the circumstances that brought us all together …

 unfortunately, the discussions are done in front of the child, who has very little say in the decisions being made for him by the adults in the room.

“It takes a village to raise a child.” but when there are problems of abuse, it takes concerned people to look for solutions. Partners in Compassion-Cambodia and the Wat Opot Community are back in the business of being a refuge for the Vulnerable children of Cambodia.

Thanks for stopping by!

The Watopotians

WORKING TOGETHER

The rainy season has come again which is great for gardens, trees, and flowers, however, it also gives weeds and other unwanted plant life the opportunity to grow, especially in our fish ponds. The pond by the kitchen was so overgrown that you could literally walk across it.

It’s a lot of work and only the best swimmers can cut the sections of grass because the pond is deep and the weeds often don’t surrender easily and like to wrap their roots around the ankles of those who push the sections to the shoreline.

The weeds and grass are waterlogged and require a lot of teamwork from our strongest children to get them into the carts.

But once loaded they are carted away by our younger children, to our garden areas where they will be used as compost.

And even the youngest can participate in picking up the stuff that falls off of the carts while being transported to the gardens… at times putting it to good use to protect themself from the Sun.

Thanks for stopping in to check on us!

The WATOPOTIANS

FRESH START

The Wat Opot family is so fortunate to have many good friends and supporters who make it possible to keep our doors open while other organizations are finding it difficult to keep going. Here are just a few that we would like to introduce you to:

 A Big Thanks to Kevin Tseng for another nutritious donation of milk and fruit and his monthly cash donations…

And to Ms. Lor Cheahuy / Mr.Lor Chea Ming / Mrs.Sovan Ang Eng / Mrs. Lay Chhiv Lin / Mrs. Kim Houy and Mr. and Mrs. Pue Vanmolinda and their children Sovan and Visal for their generous supply of soap, shampoo, and hygiene supplies as well as a computer desk and chair plus rice, noodles, and sauces…

And to the LIONS CLUB for their generous donation of rice, noodles, snacks, and sauces that should keep us going for quite a while.

And last but certainly not least:

The Singaporean Families of 黃馬家蘭, 黃秀琴, and 胡麗莉OH LAY LEE for their generous cash donation. We are grateful to all of them… and the many more who support us as we continue to serve the most vulnerable children and families in our area.

The Watopotians!

A FAREWELL TO MELINDA

With the departure of Melinda, it is going to take some time to get things organized around here again. She was so very good at it and we are all going to miss her very much. 

COVID has had a big effect on many programs in Cambodia and we are no exception, however, we are still going strong, and although we are now down to only 27 resident children, it does not mean that our campus is devoid of the delightfully chaotic sound of screaming children. Pictured above are the community children, intermingled with Watopotians, who now attend classes at Wat Opot from 2:00 to 5:00 PM every Monday through Friday. Those who can afford to, pay 10,000 Riel ($2.50) per month, and that money is used to buy supplies and help in paying the teachers.

Education is very important to the families in our community and because Wat Opot has produced several successful college and trade school graduates… the hope is that some of them will also benefit from studying with us. We would like to be able to make that possible. It is going to take a lot of work to reorganize our program into a more community-based campus but it appears that is the direction we need to take. 

We will of course continue to take in orphans and vulnerable children when called upon to do so, and in fact, the first of our new residents is from an NGO that, up until just recently, was against programs like ours. They had to change their thinking, however, when, because of COVID, there were no other options.

Thanks to all who have helped us through these difficult times. Your support is greatly appreciated.

The Watopotians