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Andersen members lend a hand in Cambodia

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Whitney Tucker
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
As a result of minimal and inaccessible healthcare, the 14.1 million citizens of Cambodia, a country still struggling to leave behind the remnants of a tumultuous history, are often subjected to a lifetime of illness and disease.

To alleviate the suffering of a people who bear the scars of war, members of the 36th Wing Chapel amassed a record-breaking, one-day offering of $6,700 and prepared for a mission that would change the lives of many, and touch the hearts of countless more.

In early February, 11 Team Andersen members, including five active-duty Airmen, arrived in Cambodia and were received by American and Cambodian missionaries, Sam Toll and Horm Jork Kosal. Shortly thereafter, the group was led to an orphanage near the Tonle Sap River called Four Square Children of Promise.

"The purpose of this trip was to support the orphanage," said Chaplain (Capt.) Richard Rojas, 36 HC. "One of their primary missions in Cambodia is to provide orphan and widow care to destitute families and individuals. There is a scripture that specifically calls us to action on this front, and this particular denomination takes that call very seriously."

In addition to providing spiritual and emotional support to the people of Tumnup Village, five medical professionals, including the 36th Medical Group's own Lt. Col. Scott Hughes, Family Practice physician, were on hand to care and advise patients, many of whom had never been seen by a doctor.

"The ailments we saw were a direct result of the way Cambodians live," Colonel Hughes said. "You see a lot of arthritis from working in the fields and skin issues from the harsh sun. We also had men and women who had never had a pair of glasses. Many came solely for the opportunity to see clearly again."

Far from the lavish accommodations which are commonplace in the U.S., the clinic was stood-up inside the orphanage in an expansive, open room.

"The clinic was certainly not what you would expect to find," Colonel Hughes said. "There were no private rooms, it was poorly lit and there were no soft beds with air conditioning. We sat in an open room with no electricity. Whatever exams we needed to do, we conducted right there."

Finding time to complete yet another project, the team members contributed 250 hours of labor to the construction of a new kitchen on the Children of Promise grounds.

"Prior to our arrival, they had a very crude kitchen with dirt floors," Chaplain Rojas said. "We were able to complete most of the work on a new, concrete kitchen with a sturdy, metal roof and working appliances."

Over the course of ten days, 88 teeth were extracted, 492 prescription glasses were issued, five surgeries were performed and a total of 1,062 patients were cared for. Though the visit was brief, members of the 36th Wing left a lasting impression and built bonds of friendship that will stand the test of time; even the local governor paid a visit to express his gratitude. 

"To have a clinic associated with an American church gives our mission another level of impact and recognition," said Mr. Toll. "Now we have garnered national attention, something we could not have hoped to achieve on our own. For this, we are incredibly grateful."

Those members fortunate enough to experience the impact of selflessness first hand attribute the success of the mission to exceptional leadership and the extraordinary generosity of their peers.

"Without the donations of our congregation, the tremendous concessions made by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Donnette Boyd and the cooperation and support of base leadership, this trip would have been impossible," Chaplain Rojas said. "It is really unusual to have a chapel send out a group like this to conduct a mission of this scale. This is a special community and we are looking forward to doing it again next year."

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