Years ago we built a crematorium at Wat Opot out of necessity, because no one wanted to cremate the bodies of our AIDS victims. It was a big investment but we had no choice. Several hundred of our patients were cremated in the oven and because most families were poor, oft times they were done for free. When COVID came along we reopened the crematorium and by the time the crisis was over had done nearly 200 more cremations, and although we were paid $100.00 per cremation from the COVID funds, plus at times some extra from the families, it was a lot more work, because many families were not allowed to attend the service and we had to do everything ourself. I had no idea that some 20 years later it would still be in use… although not used nearly as much, at times we are still asked to do the cremation for the homeless and for suicide victims. We have become known for our willingness to assist families of suicide victims who often find it hard to find others to help them because of the fear of angry spirits that may linger after the cremation.

There have been a lot of changes over the years and what was once just a place to burn bodies has now become a Memorial with frequent visitors coming, especially during the Holidays, to honor their loved ones. Last week we were asked to cremate the body of a young women with no immediate family… and just yesterday the El Lai family came by to honor a family member who died during the COVID pandemic but because of the quarantine they could not be here than. They came with gifts of gratitude as well for the old man they had been told did the service.

It is very uncomfortable for me in these situations but at the same time it gives me great joy in knowing that Wat Opot is more than just another NGO… it is a Community that will be remembered long after I am gone.

The video below was made for the families that could not be here because of being quarantined.

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We have just finished repainting the crematorium and today were working on the Memorial Garden area, trying to get it back in shape for the upcoming Holiday when many families will visit the Buddhist Temple next door. Often families will also stop by to pay their respects to family members who were cremated here during the AIDS epidemic several years ago…or were cremated here during the COVID pandemic. We still have a lot of work to do but had to halt our work this afternoon because of call from the local police requesting the use of our crematorium for another victim of suicide.

Wat Opot was one of only a few NGOs that provided free hospice services to Cambodians during the AIDS era and the only one to my knowledge that provided free cremation services for the hundreds who died in it’s care. It was also one of the main crematoriums used during the COVID crisis because others feared catching the Virus, and while there was pleanty of Government funds available for the nearly 200 cremations performed… we asked only for $100.00 to cover our cost. We did what few others were willing to do out of respect for the victims. Much of the money we made has gone into the the making of and upkeep of the Memorial.

We are also known for our willingness to cremate the victims of suicide. Families often have a hard time finding someone to perform the cremation because of a fear, not of the body, but of the tormented Spirit that may linger long after the cremation… and so it is the fires are once again lit and I have just returned from checking on their progress.

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It was late evening and I had already undressed for bed and was just about ready to settle in with a cup of coffee while I watched the latest news, when the phone rang. A young Monk from another Pagoda had committed suicide and the police were asking if we could do the cremation. Our last cremation was just a little over a month ago for one of our own and because of sickness I had not been back to the crematorium since then, but we always keep it ready for just such an occasion. I told them we would do it and got dressed again and called the team. We cleaned the area the best we could in the dark and then sat down for what would be a two-hour wait for the body to arrive.

Because the family lived some distance away it was decided to wait until the following day to do the cremation. The body of the young monk was placed in a casket and several of the monks stood vigil throughout the night.

The cremation was done shortly after the noon hour with several monks and family members in attendance.

Like AIDS and COVID, suicide is considered taboo in Cambodia by most of those who perform cremations, and that is why they bring them to us. I have in my lifetime known and counseled far too many people, both young and old, who have taken their own life… and the question always is WHY? For that reason, I can sympathize with both the victim and the family and try my best to make the process of cremation a positive one.

Suicide is a major problem in our world today. The increased access to social media, rap music, and negative world news bombards us daily with disillusionment and feelings of despondency. The use of smart telephones increases our ability to communicate with others in our altered personality but decreases the time we share our real selves on a personal level. I see no solution to this problem except for what we do as individuals. If you are despondent or lonely, seek help from others, don’t wait until your emotions control you. Take a walk in the sunshine and leave your phone behind… and if you are concerned for a loved one, who you see showing signs of depression, try to communicate your concern with them, and be honest. Physical contact is a basic human need… hug anyone and everyone whenever given the opportunity. Not only could you save a Life… but you will be doing yourself a favor as well.

Wayne Dale Matthysse


It has been a long time passing that we were able to leave our community and meet with others in large groups but finally, the COVID restrictions are lifted and we can go out again. A few days ago our children were invited to a birthday party in the community at the home of Dara and Phari Chhoeun for their daughter Lycheang.

The kids had a good time at the party and were (surprisingly) well-behaved on one of their first times out.

The food was delicious and our children ate their fill.

Then yesterday the Red Cross put on a program for the HIV+ population and several of our older children were invited to attend.

Here they received positive news about the future treatment of HIV and a possible cure. Not sure if it was meant as an incentive to keep taking their medicine or if there really is a breakthrough that I don’t know about.

During his speech, the Governor of Takeo, Ouch Phea, praised the Wat Opot group for the work we did during the COVID epidemic. Nearly 200 victims were cremated in our crematorium because no other place wanted to run the risk of getting COVID.

And while the older children attended the Red Cross meeting with Mr. Somoeun, the younger children were given the opportunity to climb Chisol Mountain with Mr. Dara and the four new volunteers Käthe, Jenny, Salome, and Johanna.

If elephants were available to take me up there, I would have gone along… but not quite recovered enough to give it a try.

Many of our 33 children are on home leave until January… the first time in two years that we could allow them to go because of COVID restrictions. This means the children who have nowhere to go can be given special attention for the next few weeks… maybe a trip to the animal sanctuary.

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CHEA Somnang   2000 to November 6, 2022 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have sent in so many wonderful pictures and shared your beautiful memories of Somnang. I know he was all of the things you said he was… and more, however, my memories unfortunately have been clouded by the skeleton Somnang that walked breathlessly into my kitchen just a few days before his death. I was frustrated and angry at him for letting himself deteriorate to such a point again because I realized that only a miracle would bring him back this time… and I had to prepare myself for what was almost certain to come.

I was also upset that no one had told me he had for the third time stopped taking his medicines for TB and HIV because he didn’t want others to know his status… as his condition worsened and he could no longer work, he told everyone not to tell me because he knew I would be upset.

He was right of course… I was upset. Upset each night he kept me awake with his persistent cough, each time I had to insert an IV in him, each time he called me to help him to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and I was upset when we had to take him into Phnom Penh to start him on his ARV drug only to receive a call that he needed to start his TB medicine first… but when we called to make an appointment we were told to wait 5 days until after the holidays.

He knew I was upset and he apologized several times for being a problem. One night I heard a commotion outside my bedroom and found out he was trying to mop up a trail of loose stools. He had tried to make it on his own to the bathroom because he didn’t want to bother me. What he needed most from me was a hug… but what he got was more of my frustration. 

The next day I bought him adult diapers and complained about the price. He didn’t know how they work and so I had to put it on for him. This was embarrassing for both of us, but wearing the diapers gave him a bit more confidence, and by the next morning he had actually gotten up on his own to make himself some breakfast noodles, instead of eating the rice soup from the kitchen. I was encouraged and told him so as I finished my own breakfast and walked out of the room on my way to the office. He was watching a movie on TV… IRON MAN, I think it was. One of his favorite heroes.

I was working on the finances when he called me about an hour later… he could barely talk. I jumped on my bicycle and returned to the dorm to find him breathing very deeply, on the couch where I had left him. He said his heart was pounding and he had the look in his eyes that I have witnessed so many times in the past. I knew immediately that we had to get him to the hospital. 

He asked me to change his diaper before they took him to the car, and I did so, but this time with a bit more compassion. He died a few hours later at the hospital after being told by the Doctor that he would not be able to come back to Wat Opot until he was stronger.

He was brought back a few hours later in a hearse and I and three of the older boys performed the cremation immediately. The driver of the ambulance had been here several times before, during the COVID pandemic. We did not let the children view the body before cremation because we wanted them to remember Somnang as he was.

Some people may question my motive for sharing these less-than-positive memories about Somnang, and I understand your reasoning… however, I do so not to make Somnang look bad, nor is it to gain sympathy for myself. The Truth is that Somnang let go of Life because so many people failed him, including me. 

There are many people in today’s society, people of all ages, who, like Somnang, are living fraudulent lives. Guarding closely a closet full of secrets, that they believe would make them unacceptable to others if they became known… and the reality is, they most likely are right.

I suppose it could be said that it is only human that we protect ourselves from getting hurt, as I did with Somnang when I realized he might die… and too, it could be said that it is only human, that we protect ourselves from those things, like HIV and other possible threats in others, that, because of our ignorance, make us react in a negative way toward them. 

“Only human”… an excuse many of us use to negate our responsibility to Love others in difficult situations. “Only human”, is, in my estimation, a rather low bar that we have set for ourselves… but a bar that I wish could be raised to “Not typical human behavior” for both myself and all of humankind.


From time to time I am asked if I believe in a Spiritual world, and I never know quite what to say. I do believe that the energy that is Life continues, once it leaves the form that it has inhabited… but to say that it continues to have the identity of that form is questionable. Still, it gives me great comfort at times to believe that the soft whisper of my name in the middle of the night, or that shadowy figure that playfully reveals itself on occasions from the corner of my good eye… is someone that I have once known and loved. 

This picture was taken while walking to the crematorium one evening, shortly after the death of two of our children. The child in my right hand is real… but in my left hand, I was holding nothing.

This picture was taken while looking for the Spirit of the boy in the picture. A moving Orb that appears to have a hot to cold trail is extremely rare. Could it be the energy of Chhange… or is it just coincidental?

I suppose we will never know for sure until we pass through the veil ourselves, but if the Spiritual world does exist, then these are some good examples for proving their existence… and if it doesn’t exist, then these are some very good illusions.

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The Partners


It started back in March of this year with A Rare Request for a cremation service. Our crematorium hadn’t been used for several years and was in disrepair… but the request was from a desperate mother whose daughter had just committed suicide by hanging and no one else wanted any part of her cremation for fear of vengeance from the departed spirit. I woke some of the guys and we got the oven ready… fortunately the crematorium still worked but it was obvious that repairs had to be made before doing any more.

The following week we cleaned up the area around the burner and rearranged the rooms just in case we received another request at some point in the future. We didn’t have to wait long… in the first part of May, we got a call that someone had died from COVID-19 and no one wanted to do the cremation for fear of catching the Virus. I told them we would do it as a temporary solution to their problem but had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Nearly every day since then, and sometimes two or three times in one day, the ambulances would come with bodies to be burned… 167 to be exact, before the end of November. Then, just after Thanksgiving Day, another request for cremating a victim of suicide and, as if the cycle had been completed the telephone stopped ringing.

It has been 6 days now since the last cremation and I am beginning to enjoy myself again. Working in the garden, cleaning the swimming pool, thinking about taking some days off on the coast, maybe even doing an excursion with the kids… and just letting the flames die out. It has been a long stretch and I am happy that is finally coming…

“Hello. Yes, we can do it. How soon before the body gets here?”

December 2, 2021/ Prey Kabass / COVID-19 Victim number 169.

Thanks for stopping in. We appreciate your support and encouragement.

The Partners


A few months ago the Governor of our Province donated two truckloads of wood to our community, for use with the cremation of COVID victims. At the time I thought he had grossly overestimated what our need would be.

But I was wrong… here is all that we had left a few days ago.

I called the COVID office but was told there was no more money at the time to buy wood and we would have to find our own supply. On our property, there are some older trees that have died and we decided to take them down.

With the help of some men in the community, we carefully took them down, and while the men with the chainsaws cut them up in smaller pieces, the children brought them to the Crematorium.

Somoeun, our new Director of Programs, demonstrated how to split the logs into usable sizes… most of the time by swinging the axe only two or three times. The guys spent much of the next two days attempting to match his technique but found it a little more difficult than he made it seem.

Because the rainy season is upon us we had to move all of the wood to higher ground since waterlogged wood is difficult to burn. It was a lot of work but we are now prepared for several more cremations…

and even though COVID cremations have been down lately with only one or two per week, we would gladly have worked in vain if there was no more need for further cremations. Thanks for stopping in.

The Partners


With the arrival of ambulances with bodies for cremation once or twice a day, nearly every day of the week including Holidays and weekends, we are constantly reminded of just how close we are to the COVID-19 virus. For that reason, we have taken every precaution to protect our children.

Cambodia doesn’t have the same problems as some other countries, with protests and demonstrations against the vaccines… they are available to anyone who wants them, and most do, although there are a few who refuse to take them for a variety of reasons… some legitimate and others more ignorant or fear-based.

Our children are fearless, however, and for that reason, we had no difficulty getting them to jump into the truck and go to the local health center.

With this group finished we now have all but two Watopotians, over the age of six, who have received their second dose of the vaccination.

And so we can relax a bit until this crisis passes, knowing we have done all we can to protect ourselves and others.

I do understand the reasoning behind some of the anti-vaxxer’s resistance but much of the information they are receiving is flawed. I heard one report that said the vaccine will cause brain damage in the long run… but judging from some of the people being interviewed, the damage has already been done.


In the darkest of times, we stand at the Threshold of an Awakening to Truth and the transformation of ignorance into Wisdom and Compassion. 

Some of the older children have questioned my choice of the color black for our Buddha in the Memorial Garden at Wat Opot and I have tried to explain it by telling them that the color Black represents the difficulties and hardships that we go through in Life… such as losing a parent or family member, as many of them have already experienced and as many of the family members are now experiencing when they come to Wat Opot to cremate their own family member because of COVID. The experience can be very painful but as time passes we begin to understand and appreciate Life in a new way and that understanding leads us to become more understanding and compassionate to others.

I am not sure if that explanation would satisfy Buddhist scholars but it seems to have made sense to the children, and to the families who now come to wait for the cremation fires to perform their function. 

Thanks for checking us out… we appreciate your support and comments.

The Partners