Sunday, April 22, 2012

Good Morning Vietnam....

... the first week in Vietnam is already over and it kicked off quite "special".
My friend Chris, with whom I am traveling through all Vietnam, and I attempted to cross the border in Ratanakiri together with some of KYCs teachers who wanted to come with us for a weekend trip. Apparently only about 25 foreigners a year are crossing this border, so for the Vietnamese Border control, it was a very unusual process, especially as we "rocked up" without Vietnamese visas and only with invitation letters. After about 4 hours of discussion and waiting, Chris unfortunately was declined the visa as his invitation letter had been expired and I was let into the country. So we split for two days as I went on with the KYC teachers, while Chris was waiting for a new invitation letter in Ratanakiri.

Our first stop in Vietnam was Nha Trang, a very touristy and developed place with tons of tourists of whom 90% were Russian. But it was great to spend some last time with some dear Cambodian friends. After 4/5 days Chris and myself went then on up north the coast to and are now in Hoi An again a quite touristy place but nice.

The impressions so far from Vietnam ? It has a stunning coastline, some great food, people are very nice and helping (even though nowhere close to Cambodians) and Vietnamese people seem to not go out in the evenings so we are having very early nights here... which after 3 months in Ratanakiri is a bit disappointing, but I guess good for my marathon training, which is suffering anyway.

Enclosed some snapshots from Vietnam and soon some more. Also an entry from Chris, to mix this blog a bit up.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Way to fast over....

... that's the feeling I get when I think of leaving Banlung City to take on Vietnam. My time here has been very salutary and I enjoyed every bit of it:

- I realized how lucky I am, being in good health. Which will be a lesson for the future to better take care of it and not wasting it
- I learned how constantly friendly, helping, welcoming and honest people create such a nice atmosphere. There shouldn't be a reason not to try to be "Cambodian" every day.
- I meet a lot a interesting people here and made some good friends who truly broadened my horizon

- I ate delicious new food and at the same time so healthy. It is so easy to create a healthy and delicious diet for a healthier life. Nevertheless I still appreciate a proper steak at "Wolfgangs" in NYC with some Canadian sizzling-honey bacon as a starter :-)
- I had time to focus on my exercise regime - which itself gave me a lot a time reflecting on myself (trust me running around a lake 4 times a week for a total of 4-5 hours gives you a lot of time to think :-))

- I learned a lot about the Cambodian/Khmer culture, about South-East Asia and how Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia all are connected to each other. 
- I certainly can now say after teaching in Ecuador and in Cambodia, that my patience level is not suitable for teaching and being a teacher will not be an option for me in the future. At the same time my respect for teachers has grown immensely (though I still think German teachers get to much time off :-P)
- I am truly thankful that I was given the opportunity to help some people here on the ground and make a change to their life. To give you an overview of what we achieved over the past 3 months:

- We got a staggering 13,000 US Dollar together to build 7 wells in indigenous communities, which gave over 4,000 people access to water. As well as the money will be used to build a small school in Cambodias "outback".

- Helped Rosica to get a majority of her hearing ability back and started to re-finance her hearing aid with the help of friends.
- Helped Sokhav to get a proper diagnose of his skin-problem, put a therapy together as well as set him up with the initial necessities.

- We financed Chanrath and Meraline, two children who were abandoned by their parents, their studies at Krou Yeung Center so that they can receive a proper education.

This all couldn't have been done without the financial support of (this is in no particular order): Anke, Sunjay, Linda, Joy, Stefanie, Franziska, Genovefa, my parents, my aunt, Ellisha, Andrew, Nayomi, Florian, Sue, Tim, Kayelyn, Andy, Matthew, Jimi, Sumit, Christopher, Rouven, Ting, Robert, Ruben, Ling and Malte.

 A big Thank You to all of you, you are grand !! 

I will write more about my the highlights here over the next weeks - but one thing is sure I will come back here in the future,  not just to see how the children here have grown up or meeting up with friends but also because it is such a peaceful and joyable place.

The enclosed pictures are from a splitter-bomb that was found in the backyard of our school... routine/daily reality to Cambodians - they didn't even "evacuate" the closest classrooms.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Skin Cancer" or "We don't know what he has"....

.... those were the first comments I heard about Sokhav, a 6.5 year old student at Krou Yeung center with severe skin problems. He suffers from a "Elephant skin": thick and dry skin covering his body all over. 
The skin renews itself every 4-5 days for 3-4 days in a very painful process. This is only the first obvious symptoms you see, but he is also missing eye-lids as well as his ears are not properly developed. Having suffered my own bit of skin-problems when I was growing up (though nothing anywhere close to Sokhav) and knowing from that experience how hard a "abnormal" appearance can be on your self-esteem, Sokhav certainly became a case very close to my heart and I was determined to try to help him. The first thing that had to be done was to actually get a diagnose of what he is suffering from, cause it certainly was no skin-cancer. Even though the parents went with him to a specialized skin-clinic in Phnom Penh in the past, they never received a proper diagnose nor any proper help.

So with help of my friend Ruben, who is a practicing doctor in Germany, I got a initial picture diagnose together which then 2 traveling dutch doctors, who visited our school, confirmed. Sokhav has "Ichthyosis congenita" which is a genetic imperfection, where the body can not hydrate or fatten the skin itself, so the outer-layer of the skin creates a "Elephant skin". As it is genetic it is also not curable, but by knowing what he actually has, I set off on researching what can be done to improve his life-quality. Unfortunately there is not much experience nor any studies available on Ichthyosis as it is not yet properly researched. Nevertheless with the help of Ruben and some references in the internet, I put together a plan on how to help Sokhav and ease his skin-problem. That's where the whole challenge started !!

Part of the "therapy" is a very time consuming daily routine where Sokhav has to manually hydrate and fatten his skin. But if done consequently and over a long time the results are very promising. 
To start the therapy off, we needed a proper creme which is fattening Sokhavs skin and in huge-amounts as he needs to completely cover his body at least 4 times a day with it. The creme would be something you will get in any Pharmacy in Germany, even at "Aldi" as we found out - but not so in Cambodia !! And I mean all Cambodia !!! I was searching about every Pharmacy in Banlung, I had people check with big Pharmacies in Phnom Penh, I went to the local hospital, to many local shops that sell skin products, approached basically any big pharmaceutical company I know, searched the local Banlung market, I even got in touch with 3 big children NGOs which all have a health department but the only feedback I got everywhere was: "We don't have such a creme and you won't find this in big amounts in Cambodia". While it is super easy to find here all sorts of make-up or skin-whitener a normal fattening creme containing "Urea and Glycerin" and not containing perfume or alcohol is basically impossible. As the end of my time here is approaching and we want to help this boy, we now settled for a regular creme which we can get in big amounts (as a major consideration is also that Sokhav has to be able to access the creme his life long, so sending packages from abroad is not an option either).

So next week we are kicking off the "therapy" with Sokhav hoping that over the next 3-4 months he will experience major improvements with his skin.... The enclosed example illustrate how Sokhav could improve if the therapy actually helps him and he is following a strict hydration and fattening regime.

Seeing Sokhav, makes me realize how lucky we, who are blessed with good health, are! And how we sometimes carelessly waste our good health: it is just way to easy to make that excuse not to exercise or depend on our health systems and medicine... but people like Sokhav never even have the chance to be healthy, cause if they would have it they would take it!!!

This leaves me to say a BIG THANK YOU to: 

- Ruben, who is the expert behind all this and without whom I could not have put this together.
- My parents, who have generously supported the therapy plan for Sokhav so we can set him up with the initial set of "tools", cremes and other necessities
- Shamim, who has supported me on getting in touch with big Pharmacy companies to get access to cremes. Of which GSK was the only real lead and seem to be the only company that is serious...