Monday, November 30, 2009

Help Build A School In Cambodia, And Maybe Win Something, Too!

My friend, CanCan, hosts the blog Mom Most Traveled, and is participating in the Passports with Purpose, annual event to raise $13,000 to build a school in Cambodia through American Assistance for Cambodia. And anything that helps education in Cambodia is a big CHECK-PLUS in my grade book!

For every $10 that is donated, you are entered to win some of the fabulous prizes available by the various sponsors and blog hosts! Check out the prizes here.

Passports with Purpose

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Transparency needed

Cambodia's corruption index improves by a hair ... but still near the bottom, i.e. one of the most corrupt country in the world

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Transparency International issued its 2009 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Cambodia's rank moved to 158 out of a total of 180, a slight improvement over 2008 when Cambodia ranked 166. Among ASEAN countries, Cambodia ranks lowest along with Laos.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Glowing bugs could find landmines

Monday, 16 November 2009
BBC News

Bacteria which glow green in the presence of explosives could provide a cheap and safe way to find hidden landmines, Edinburgh scientists claim.

The bugs can be mixed into a colourless solution, which forms green patches when sprayed onto ground where mines are buried.

Edinburgh University said the microbes could be dropped by air onto danger areas.

Within a few hours, they would indicate where the explosives can be found.

The scientists produced the bacteria using a new technique called BioBricking, which manipulates packages of DNA.

Alistair Elfick, from the university's school of engineering, who supervised the student-led project, said: "This anti-mine sensor is a great example of how innovation in science can be of benefit to wider society.

"It also demonstrates how new scientific techniques can allow molecules to be designed for a specific purpose."

Each year, between 15,000 and 20,000 people are killed or injured by landmines and unexploded ordnance, according to the charity Handicap International.

Some 87 countries are riddled with minefields, including Somalia, Mozambique, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Follow up from the American family reported by Khmer Intelligence

Posted: 15 Nov 2009 10:39 AM PST
On 14 November 2009, Khmer Intelligence published the following report:

Part 2: Below is a follow up from the family:
Dear Khmer Friends,

Thank you everyone for your patience with us, considering the ramifications of our story.

If you your site could use the information in this letter to make a difference in the corruption rampant in the medical field in Cambodia, please contact me to discuss how we can cooperate. This is a bit long, but please bear with me.

We came to Cambodia to save lives, but because of our outspoken stance againt this corruption, we became targets and nearly lost our lives.

Yes, we managed to escape Cambodia, thanks to supporters of our NGO who used their personal funds and air miles to arrange a ticket. We have nothing left but our suitcases, and must start over here in the US. Cara is still unwell, and will require continued medical care for some time.

For your patience I'll provide you the details, but please be aware this is not a simple story of another assault. As they say in Cambodia, there is little random violence. There IS violence, but nearly all of it is for a reason. It's the reason for the attack that had us so worried.

The initial details of the attack are outlined in the forwarded letter below. It wasn't until a few days later that we put the pieces together to realize this wasn't random.

Since we arrived in Cambodia this past March, we had been working at a small clinic in Kampong Thom Province. At the request of National Assembly Representative from Kampong Thom, His Excellency Nhem Thavy, we were given a closed down Community Health Center. Using our own funds, we renovated and restored the clinic. We were incredibly successful, seeing up to 100 patients a day, who often came hundreds of K's and waited days to see us, as we were the only reliable and available care in the provinces. It reached the point we were getting busloads of sick people arriving daily from past Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, and kampong Channg. As long as we were spending our own cash, we were fine. We had opened on the advice and request of the Ministry of Health while awaiting our MOU to be finalized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We had thought that it would be completed shortly, but as of Oct 12, the day of the attack, it had not yet been approved. We had been told by many other NGO's that a significant "donation"(bribe, specifically cash, a nice camera, or laptop) needed to be paid to get our MOU cleared, but we refused to pay. Therefore, we were told repeatedly by the MFA that our MOU wasn't good enough- basically our budget was under $100,000- too small for their % cut. We were given odd reasons, like we dated it before it was signed, then we removed the date, then it was declined because it didn't have a date. We had used the old Min of Health Logo. We used blue ink on the stamps, and red ink is supposed to be used prior to approval. Then, they didn't like our date. Then, our typeface was too small. We kept making these ridiculous modifications to appease them, until finally, "the ink on our logo was too bright". It reached the point the Secretary General Leng Peng Long, Vice President Nguon Nhel, the Assembly President and finally Minister of Health H.E. Mom BunHeng all appealed to the MFA and we still never got approved. And all this time we were still saving the lives of 100 people a day from our little clinic.

That was the big corruption we were dealing with, but not the most deadly. It was the little guys who we believe came after us. In the Baray-Santouk referral district of Kampong Thom Dept of Health, there are 19 health care centers just like ours. Almost like our, that is. They are all boarded up, shut down, and non-functioning. Some see a few patients, but not many people go to them because they have no medicine and no staff. At the Baray-Santouk Referral Hospital, there are 10 paid doctors and 37 paid nurses on staff- but me made a practice to bring by every international visitor and challenge them to find a health care worker on the grounds. Not once in 8 months was someone working there. They average 3 to 5 patients a day, and most are never given the medications they need. We would often visit there, and on occasion gave money to the patients to catch a bus to Siem Reap so they could actually get treatment- if you didn't have $50 cash, you couldn't take one of the three empty ambulances sitting there.

But it wasn't the lack of treatment and staff that was the big problem. Each of the other 18 closed down health Care centers in the District were reporting to the Regional Director Dr. Meas Cham that they were treating 900 patients a month. The medicine for these imaginary patients was being shipped there, stolen, and sold by the staff. Every week we would submit our legitimate medication requests, only to be told "we don't have any". Our patients were dying over 50 cents worth of Cipro, and we were quickly running out of our own funds to purchase medicine. We finally confronted Dr Meas Cham and his Supervisor, Dr Vao Lough Kuhn, Kampong Thom regional Director, over this issue, and were told we were going to be reported (to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs!) over our outrageous behavior.

Every time we demanded we be sent the even the basic medication that they were already listing as being distributed to us, we were told they had just run out, or that our "MOU wasn't completed so they didn't have to send us anything". We did not receive one dose of vaccines for 6 months when we were seeing over 1800 patients a month. They had run out every single month. At one point we contacted the head of the Cambodian Red Cross, HE Ho Noun, who paid a visit to our clinic. She was very impressed, and we had a big media day, but still no medicines came. Every now and then we would get a box with 10 IV's, and a few bottles of the stuff that no one could sell (Vitamin A and Birth Control Pills), but never Paracetemol or Antibiotics.

The situation was becoming critical, and we began to put more pressure on the district. We staged a visit with "simulated" visitors from World Health, who asked about why vaccines weren't being delivered. Dr Meas Cham walked out on them, so we called some friends and were arranging an actual aduitor come visit to help out. AT the end of September, we had to close the clinic. We were out of our personal money, and without our MOU, could not even apply for grants and loans. We did get some funding from the Camkids Charity (Dominique and Benita Sharpe, very nice people), but could not operate without adequate supplies. We hoped closing for a few days would put pressure on the MFA and MOH to get our papers completed so we could operate. That's when the top level of the Nat'l Assembly began to put on the pressure. It looked like we might finally get it done, and the local Min of Health would be forced to give us the required medications.

And that was precisely when Cara was attacked.

You see, a lot of people were making a lot of money off of those stolen medications. A lot of staff had very nice Camrys, and a Lexus or two, and without that extra cash, they could lose them. Most importantly, if two westerners could legitimately open and operate a clinic, and treat 2000 patients a month with almost no money, then they might be expected to improve THEIR standards a little bit.

So we were battling corruption everywhere- the MFA at the top, the MOH in the middle, and the thieving doctors at the bottom. This was never our intent- we just wanted our medicine so we could save lives.

We asked for help, and told of the corruption- asked for help from the Red Cross, from Parliament, from UNICEF and World Health, but it seems everyone has their finger in the pie, and everyone had a lot to lose by us succeeding. We were succeeding, and with a completed MOU would have the clout to get around these hurdles.

What's also implied is that many of the larger NGOs in Cambodia are aware of this situation as well- we sat through endless lectures on Child and Maternal Health from UNICEF, when it struck us that they were getting their statistics from the same people who were forging patient records to get enough medicine to sell so they could make their car payments. How many children die every year in the jungles? Who really knows, because I swear every statistic is made up by the other 18 boarded up health care centers that never actually treated patients. Take a drive up Road 6 one day, or any of the tiny villages, and spend 5 minutes visiting the little "Blue H" signs. Do you see 900 patients a month being treated there? Maybe at Sihanouk inPP or Angkor in SR, but not where these statistics are coming from. We can tell you that despite the MOH charging 28000 Riels to deliver a baby, the midwives are charging them $75, so they never come, deliver alone at home, and die a few days later from the jagged episiotomies, the inevitable blood loss or infection, or the tetanus that follows. But UNICEF doesn't see that, they just take the fabricated numbers, spend $3 million on writing the nice powerpoint report, and never see the dying children who never got the stolen tetanus shots.

Someone needed to stop us. So we got what they consider "a warning" in Cambodia. Those details are outlined below.

We are grateful we got out alive- Cara was never meant to survive this attack. We are most grateful it wasn't our children (Samantha, 13, and Moira, 10) who were injured- we don't know how we would have recovered from that.

So we hid for a week, and got a donated flight out of there. We stayed a few days in NY, then a week in Ohio to get Cara medical treatment near her family. We are finally back in South Carolina, and hope to put our lives back together. We will keep our NGO "open" long enough to recover some of the costs for getting home and Cara's medical expenses, and would be grateful for any donations to our website

We hope at some point to find the right people to go to with this information. As you know, Cambodia receives close to $1 BILLION in foreign aid, much of it for health care. When the world discovers NONE of that money or medicine actually makes it to the people who need it, things may change. Even telling this story puts us in more danger, but we came to Cambodia to help the people, not to buy Camrys for corrupt doctors. When Ho Noun came to visit us, the staff at Baray-Santouk heard she was coming and washed the walls in the front rooms, and hired people from the village to pose as patients so it looked like they were functional. It was a good ploy, because no one ever really checked. Somehow and somewhere, we'll find the right people who are interested in where all that money goes. Maybe then, the people who need the help can actually get it.

Several people have asked me if I'd ever consider returning to Cambodia. I say yes, with a bullet proof vest and a team of inspectors and auditors from the UN intent on cleaning up corruption. I personally saw too many children dying over 50 cents worth of antibiotics while the people that were getting these millions to care for them were laughing and sipping coffee.

We were careless in speaking openly about corruption while we were still in Cambodia. That was our mistake. When they tried to kill my wife, they didn't get the job done. That was their mistake.

James Garcia
Share the Health Cambodia

Tragedy of an American Family in Cambodia

Part 1: Tragedy of an American family in Cambodia

An American family who have come to help Cambodia and made big sacrifices to run a medical clinic providing basic health care to the poor, are victims of corruption and violence, which characterize the prevailing political system.. The e-mail we publish here has been circulating among their countless known and unknown friends who are deeply moved by their tragedy and revolted by the Kafkaesque situation they are facing. You can read their story by clicking at here, or read their story below:

From: James Garcia <>
Subject: Re: Re: Emergency
To: "Paul Nou" <>
Date: Sunday, October 18, 2009, 3:08 PM

Dear Paul,

I am so grateful for your concern. I will give you the full details and I will trust your discretion to decide which information to release. I am only sending this to you, and hope you can explain to Mr Thavy our situation.

We had been having severe problems with the clinic because of the corruption in Cambodia. We were waiting for almost 6 months for our MOU to be processed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They were reluctant because our budget was so small, and it appeared our anticipated "generous donation" would not be sufficient. We were given ridiculous reasons for delay such as our typeface, then because we dated it, and then because we didn't date it, then because they didn't like the date we picked, and finally because our "ink was too bright on our logo." Mr Thavy and our entire village worked to support us in this, but even with the VP and President of the Assembly and the Minister of health backing us, they wouldn't approve it.

Without our MOU we could not be approved for grants and loans to run the clinic, and spent our entire $40,000 personal budget to keep the clinic operating. And now we were broke.

On the other end, we uncovered the scheme that prevented us from getting the medicine we needed from the Ministry of Health. The entire time we were working, and treated over 9,000 people, the local Min of health refused to supply us with even the basic medications. We put in request after request, but were always told they had no medications. When we snuck in recently, we saw the empty warehouse was actually full. For three months we never got one vaccine. When we discussed this at the Kampong Thom Regional NGO meeting, we learned the reason. It appears there are 19 Health Care Centers like ours in the district. Each of them are closed, and most are boarded up and totally abandoned. However, they are each reporting they are seeing over 900 patients a month, and the medicine for those 900 non-existant patients is stolen and sold. They say we did not receive our monthly supplies because they were "out of medicine", Cara saw two SUV's pull up to the Baray-Santouk Referral Hospital at 830 at night and load up with the medicines they just said they didn't have. We have children dying and they won't send paracetemol because they are stealing it.

We confronted Dr Meas Cham and Va Lough Kun many times over this injustice, but were always told "he will be retiring in two or three years so just ignore him."

And still the children were dying and we couldn't get a single bottle of Cipro.

On Sunday night we had a business meeting at our Director Bosan's, next to our clinic, to discuss what we could do while awaiting our MOU, and how much more we could accomplish with this corruption. Cara got exceptionally angry over this injustice, and decided to walk the short distance home. It wasn't a smart decision, but she was overwhelmed at the acceptance of this corruption. We looked for her for a while, but she was very angry and just wanted to walk off some steam. I went home and put the children to bed, and she did not make it home until 5 am the next morning.

While walking, three men in a blue utility truck with wooden sides pulled up to her, heading from PPenh to Siem Reap. Three men jumped out and grabbed her. She was drug into a ditch, and tied up with some barbed wire that was there. She was raped for hours, and when they were done they kicked her face down into a rice paddy. She managed to survive, but was badly injured. While they were raping her she was fighting back and insulting them, making them strike her many times. Her nose was broken, and she has many lacerations from the thorns and barbed wire.

She can clearly describe two of the attackers- one had much lighter hair and eyes than most Cambodians and wears a brown hat, and for the second rapist she was able to bite a large chunk out of his nose. This man spoke very clear English with very little accent, and spoke to the other two men in English, but they also spoke Khmer when leaving. She was unconscious for most of the third attacker.

At 7 am I called the police to make a report, but I was told by my Cambodian friends that "this never happens here." The police arrived to file a report, but when we were able to wake her, she was severely distraught and refused an exam- she was incomprehensible and uncooperative at that point- "Just home many men need to be in me today?' , which is not unreasonable for someone in her condition. She finally consented to go to PPenh for treatment, and the police left without taking any evidence or filing a report. They didn't believe her. We went to the Russian Hospital and several others, but could not get help.

Tuesday morning we were contacted by Mr Ath of the Kampong Thom Criminal Investigation Division, who had always been very kind to us, and he promised to see us at 2:30 that day. He never showed up, and we were never able to reach him. We went to the Chong Doung Police station to try to reach him, but he was "late coming from Kampong Thom." we asked to tell him to meet us as soon as possible, but he never came, called or answered his phone.

We went to the clinic to settle things there, and while going over our records, realized that out Cambodian associate Vanna Doung had been stealing from us the whole time, and creating friction between us and Dr. Nhem Ping, our landlord and Mr Thavy's nephew, so we would remain dependant on him while he was embezzling. He has demanded another $700 from us while trying to deal with this tragedy, and threatened to steal our generator and destroy our building addition and sell the wood. After discussion, we learned of many events of theft and deception. He even turned off our phones so our families could not reach us, and tried to call our business associates to disparage us.

On Wednesday we went to the District Police in Baray. After waiting ignored for an hour, we met the police chief who was angry because we were disturbing his rest time. He was in a towel, having an extended break, and refused to take any report. He deferred us to the local police. Cara did become very rude and angry at him.

We then went to the village police in Choung Doung and met a nice officer who finally made a report. He took no pictures or evidence, but did file an official report. That's when they explained why "no one gets raped here...”. Well, actually there are lots of rapes, but because of social stigma, no one reports them. Women who are raped cannot get married. When there is a rape with severe injury, the police don't investigate, they negotiate a settlement between the rapist and the family. The police do this so they can take a 10% cut of the rapist's penalty to the family. This information was not very comforting to Cara at that time.

We spoke with Dr Ping, who told us he spoke to Mr Thavy on Wednesday, but he never tried to contact us. We wrote to him many times by email and he never responded or called. Now we understand he is out of the country, but Cara desperately wanted to ask for his assistance and friendship to survive this incident. The fact he did not even contact us after learning of this has saddened her deeply as well. We don't understand this action from someone so important to us.

On Thursday we finally packed up and went to Phnom Penh to see Dr Watson at the SOS Clinic, who did a proper physical exam. Cara's nose is broken, she has many serious lacerations and bruises, and severe vaginal tearing and bleeding. She had blood work done, but it was too late for the HIV vaccine. We will not know if she has HIV for up to a year, which is unimaginable. She had already taken a whole pack of birth control pills to induce an abortion since RU486, the "Morning after Pill" is not available here, and neither are several other medications which may have helped Cara through this tragedy. This has made her bleeding and pain even worse.

We did meet with Amy from the Crisis Counseling service, but Cara was still very injured and angry. Diane Whitten from the US Embassy met us there as well, and they have been very considerate, but unable to assist us in getting home.

It appears we may have assistance for a flight to New York, but still have to get to SC to see Cara's personal physicians. We have no home, no car, no possessions or belonging except what is in our suitcases. We sold everything we owned to open and maintain this clinic, and spent over $40,000, all the money we had in the world. Now we have no home, no clinic, nothing. My mother is currently fighting colon cancer at Palmetto Baptist Hospital in Columbia SC, and may not survive the week.

Cara is still alive, but is absolutely non-functional. She can barely move, and has continuous nightmares about the experience. She must get care before she succeeds in killing herself, and with our girls Samantha (13) and Moira (10) trapped in the middle of this nightmare with us, it is more than I can handle by myself. It is hard to think and plan rationally at the moment. I'm just focusing on anything I can do to get her help.

We are currently staying in the apartment of a friend of Dom and Benita Sharpe of the Camkids Charity, who have been such a blessing. Kevin O’Brien of Sihanouk Hospital has been a true friend as well, and has taken Moira to lunch and offered to help with distracting the children so I can care for Cara.

That's everything. We gave all we had, and helped so many people with love and selflessness in our hearts. This vicious and brutal attack by strangers has defeated our spirit. We know these thugs do not represent all of Cambodia, but she will see their face on everyone she sees now. She knows no investigation will ever be attempted. I now look at the nose of every man I see hoping to find the one she bit. She fought hard to survive that attack, but after the treatment she received afterwards, no longer has any will to fight or live.

Please help me get her help to keep her alive. She is the most beautiful and amazing woman I've even met in my life, and I don't know that I could survive without her. Please, just go look at our pictures on the website Share the Health Cambodia and Facebook and see what an incredible woman she is. Please don't let her love and kindness for the people of this country first cost her everything, and then her very life as well.

James Garcia
Share the Health Cambodia

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fake French "Evian" in Cambodia

Yet another reason not to pay too much for your bottled water in Cambodia.

Just another way to make a "buck."

Many stores and restaurants in Cambodia are selling and serving fake "Evian", the famous mineral water supposedly imported from France . The "Evian" bottles in question are actually filled in Cambodia with a locally- produced water whose composition is not the same as the French natural mineral water from the Alps mountains. While a large number of poor Cambodians are starving and most children in the countryside are underfed, it's very fashionable for the privileged few in this country to drink costly bottled mineral water imported from as far as Europe .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cambodia's Garment Workers Hit by Recession

I read this on KI Media. After a period of true growth, it's always the poorest who are most affected when jobs are eliminated.

By Ker Yann, VOA Khmer
10 November 2009

Over the last decade economic growth has helped lift Cambodia out of its poverty. The signs were everywhere; bustling construction sites around Phnom Penh ; young workers filing into factories, filling orders for eager clients abroad.

More than 400,000 jobs in the textile industry fuelled the hopes of many young women whose earnings in the city helped support their extended families in the countryside.

Ny Sopheak: "I worked in the packing section of a textile factory. I earned sometimes $60 a month from the factory work and I sent $10 a month to my father."

But that factory, like dozens of others, has now closed. The global recession scared investors and shut down factories.

Twenty-three-year-old Ny Sopheak, like 50,000 other Cambodians, recently lost her job in the garment industry.

This in a country where not having a job can mean not eating, or perhaps just having one meal a day.

Ny Sopheak: "Since I don't have enough food I feel so weak and I often get sick."

Today Ny is sharing one egg and some rice with her roommate, Horn Devy who also lost her factory job. That's one egg between two people. Horn feels she can't go on much longer.

Horn Devy: "It's very difficult. It's a hard life, living in a small room like this."

Horn is only 15 years old. She was sent to work to help out her family, small time farmers and basket weavers who can't make ends meet.

Horn's mother says she worries about her, so young, and away from the family. Even so, she wanted Horn to earn money, so that her brothers can finish school.

But having lost her job, Horn has gone from providing for her family to becoming an extra burden. Asked how she feels about this, she says,

Horn Devy: "It's hard to say. I am starving. When you have no food it's very difficult to feel anything."

Her story is unusual because of her young age, but all over Cambodia's capital there are women who are falling into abject poverty as they lose their jobs in the textile factories.

Meanwhile, thousands of factory workers have turned to the streets to pressure the government to guarantee their jobs, their incomes, and their access to food.

And while Cambodia has been hard-hit, other countries are worried too. Guaranteeing the availability of food for everyone is now an urgent issue for governments across Asia-Pacific.

Many governments are now looking at how to invest in agriculture, to stem tide of migration towards the cities, and to help make food more affordable.

But textile factories too, are needed. If they keep closing, experts worry that much of the progress achieved in places like Cambodia, in education, in economic development, and in human rights, could be at risk; and with it the future of the entire generation.
(italics are mine because this is the real kicker)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Alabama issues Stop Sale Order on Asian catfish

Discovered this story from my regular email updates from KI-Media. Since I know several people from Alabama, it struck a chord.

Click on the flag for more information about United States UNITED STATES
Tuesday, November 10, 2009, 03:10 (GMT + 9)

Commissioner Ron Sparks of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries announced on Wednesday a Stop Sale on catfish and basa products imported from Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, China and Vietnam due to positive results for the antibiotic fluoroquinolones.

A total of 40 samples of basa type products and catfish were tested from the five Asian countries, out of which 18 product samples yielded positive results for fluoroquinolones.

Fluoroquinolones and quinolones are chemotherapeutic bactericidal drugs used to kill bacteria by interfering with their DNA replication. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow the use of fluoroquinolones in seafood.

Sparks has issued nine orders of suspension from sale or movement for 486 cases of product weighing 8,840 lbs. These products were either voluntarily destroyed or returned to the importer after the Alabama Department notified the FDA of the drug traces.

The Alabama Department’s detection reporting limit is 1 part per billion (ppb) or greater. In the results, 17 samples were in the 1-5ppb range and one sample tested greater than 50ppb.

The basa type products tested were swai, sutchi and pangasius. Out of 19 Vietnamese samples, 12 tested positive; both Cambodian samples tested positive; one of three Indonesian samples tested positive; one of seven Thai samples tested positive; and one Chinese sample tested positive.

Also, one of eight samples of Chinese channel catfish tested positive.

Product samples continue to be collected and tested. Enforcement action will be implemented as necessary.

“The Automatic Stop Sale Order criteria established in April of 2007 is still in effect,” stated Sparks. “This series of tests that we have just completed indicates the importance of the continuation of the Stop Sale Order.”

By Natalia Real