Monday, November 16, 2009

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

1 comment:

  1. terrible terrible awful. My prayers are with this family.