OCTOBER ACTIVITIES

Every weekday we hold extracurricular classes in Math, Khmer, and English for all the kids at Wat Opot and in the wider community to help them get a leg up in their academic journey.

With nearly a hundred children attending regularly, our awards ceremony yesterday was a pretty big deal for both the kids receiving awards and their teachers and classmates who cheered them on.

Congratulations to all, we’re so proud of you!

We also had to bid farewell to Janina, a long-time supporter and representative from St. Ursula Gymnasium Dorsten, who joined us this week to learn more about our programs and delve into the many stories that Wat Opot has to tell.

In her short time with us, she showed us some new exercises for our weekly Yoga sessions.

Janina, it was an absolute pleasure to have you here – for the kids especially!

We hope to stay connected with you through the future! Your support is so important to us – thank you!

Thanks for stopping in and thanks to all of you who are supporting us… before I go, however, I need to share this photo of a Wat Opot Sunset from Scott Rotzoll, another of our Volunteers / Photojournalist.

If you are not one of our supporters but would like more information on how to become one please visit our CONTACT PAGE or go directly to the Wat Opot support website: https://www.watopot.org/en/donate

THE WATOPOTIANS

THUMBPRINT GUARDIAN TRANSFERS

The process of transferring guardianship of a child can in some places be a long and costly battle involving courts, lawyers, social service workers, and guardians… however, in Cambodia, the process takes only a few hours. Once it is decided by a joint meeting of social services, village leaders, police, and the parent or guardian of a child, that it is in the best interest of the child to be removed from a vulnerable environment and placed into the care of a licensed facility, like The Wat Opot Community, the thumbprint is all that is required. We have added nine new children to our community in the past two months.

The Guardian is first to place their thumbprint onto the document and the children are fully aware of what is happening…

and one can only imagine what is going through the child’s mind during this process.

Fortunately, we have at times, volunteers like Kate Bernoske, who can make the transition from living on the streets to living in a controlled environment just a little easier.

Once the paperwork is finished the only thing left to do, is for the child to add his own thumbprint to the document to make the transfer legal and binding.

Climbing into a stranger’s car to be taken to an unknown destiny by people you do not know, can be a bit daunting…

But within hours they are surrounded by other children just like themselves, who are happy to show them around and introduce them to the many opportunities and activities available at Wat Opot.

Opportunities that very few other children in Cambodia get to experience.

Thanks for stopping in and thanks to all of you who are supporting us. If you are interested in being one of our supporters please visit our CONTACT PAGE.

THE WATOPOTIANS

OUR NEWEST GRANDDAUGHTER

I am not always happy with the choices our children make for themselves but then, I suppose I disappointed my parents as well with the seemingly bad choices I made in my youth… well I made some in my middle ages as well, okay I still make them, but it is those choices, however, no matter how bad they were, that made me what I am today… and I am happy with who I have become. Many times bad choices end in good results and I would like to share just one with you today.

This is our newest granddaughter Meng Ly born just two months ago… the beautiful results of what I thought was a bad decision by the mother… not the first time I have been wrong.

Perhaps one of the greatest joys I have is to see Watopotians making it on their own and starting their own families.

And the second greatest joy is to see how the Wat Opot family supports each other.

Thanks for stopping in and if you want to continue to follow us please consider adding your name to the mailing list as I am thinking of pulling out of Facebook and social media and concentrating only on my websites.

The Watopotians

DEATH OF A MONK

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

ONLY HUMAN

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.

NOT JUST ANOTHER SUNDAY

I was a bit late getting up this Sunday morning… usually, nothing much happens, and because it is a holiday (again) and the Wat I was told was having a carnival in the evening, I knew there would be loud music throughout the day and late into the night.

The kids were waiting for me in the kitchen… showing much more enthusiasm for our Sunday morning Art Class than I was feeling. We got out the crayons and colored pencils and they got to work on expressing themselves on paper.

Quite bold for a child who has only been with us a few weeks. We don’t have the artist that we once had here or perhaps I should say that we don’t have a good teacher to bring out the artist that lies dormant in most children. We picked up the crayons and were getting ready to eat our lunch when Mr. Somoeun told us to go immediately to the stage because some unexpected guests were coming.

We got the stage area cleaned up and the group led by Mr. Channa, a former director, arrived a short time later… but instead of the usual rice and cooking oil in the back of the car, we were surprised to find something quite unexpected.

Computers! Ten complete desktops to be exact. Enough to set up a complete lab.

And that was not all… they also handed out 10,000 Reil to each of the children and over $1500.00 for our operational cost. We are very grateful to the following families for this very generous donation.

1.) Mr. DAVID Dao & Harry Lim (represented by Mrs. CHEA MUY SOUANG) $800
2.) Ms. Yean Somany & her family $100
3.) Mr. Peng Songlim & Mrs. Yim Sophary $300
4.) Mr. Chhim Tepwinuth & Mrs. Vann Amporpech $300
5.) Mr. Hang Ponlork & family, computer desktops 10 units

WAIT THERE IS STILL MORE

After our evening meal, we had a buyer stop in and sold 26 of our chickens, which brought in $155.00 more. And the boring little carnival I was expecting, turned out to be a lot bigger than those of the past.

And there is also a theatrical performance scheduled for later in the evening… much later, like 12:00 to 4:00 AM.

I may go over for some ice cream when I finish this update, but I don’t think I will be watching the performance… even though it will be playing in my dreams.

Thanks for stopping in. If you would like to join us as a volunteer or supporter please go to our CONTACT PAGE or send us an e-mail at wocommunity@gmail.com. Check out the WISH LIST while you are here.

The WATOPOTIANS

WE ARE GROWING

The COVID pandemic had a big effect on our program and for a while, it was looking like we were going to have to close our doors like so many of the other programs in Cambodia. With help from the community, the government, and some of the nearly 200 private families who had loved ones cremated here during the COVID pandemic, however, we were able to continue and now it looks like we are on the way to a full recovery. Below are photos of some of the groups who have visited us.

With their help and cash donations from others, we have survived and have accepted the challenge to not only continue, but to grow as well. With Mr. Dara back in command, we have already brought in 6 new vulnerable children, bringing the number of resident children to thirty-three and we are sure there will be more since the Government Social Services program is reevaluating its position on residential care to include communities like ours.

Here are the newest children who can now call themselves Watopotians.

I am optimistic about our future and the future of our children… now and those to come. If you would like to join us as a volunteer or supporter please go to our CONTACT PAGE or send us an e-mail at wocommunity@gmail.com. Check out the WISH LIST while you are here.

Thanks for stopping in, and leave a comment if can. It means a lot to us to know you support our growing community.

The WATOPOTIANS

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