The Lock-Out is Over

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Some people talk about poverty in terms of a lack of options. Using that criteria, prisoners in Cambodia are surely some of the poorest of all, lacking even the option of a traditional dentist pulling out a painful tooth. Instead, they normally have no choice but to put up with an acutely abscessing tooth until it settles, hoping that the infection won’t spread into the upper face or neck with potentially fatal consequences.

For the past three years the Christian organisation I partner with (the only provider of dental care for prisoners) has been locked-out as they attempted to re-negotiate a new MoU with the government. After much prayer and multiple attempts, I am happy to report that three weeks ago we were finally allowed back into  the main men’s prison. Each Wednesday I take a team of 10 students to fill and extract teeth as we rotate every few months around Phnom Penh’s main prisons. Operating in high temperatures, we have already been struggling with equipment breakdowns and push-back from guards keen on wielding their power. However, we have seen God at work with positive outcomes in spite of the conditions. One man’s abscess had spread into his cheek and was serious enough require incision, drainage and antibiotics, for which he was really grateful. Our team values your ongoing prayers. Phones and cameras are not permitted in Cambodian prisons but for an up-to-date report from outside the walls watch the video above or click here.

Newsworthy in Battambang

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If a newspaper can publish a collection of random snippets about everything in general and nothing in particular, so can this blog!  What follows is a collection of random snippets about life in Battambang – the city in Cambodia we currently call home.  Enjoy!

The weather

In general this year, we haven’t experienced much of a cooler season, except on two occasions, each of a few days’ duration, when the morning temperatures have been around 15!  This unusual happening caused us to dig deep to find the only thin blanket we own.  Most of the time we don’t even need a sheet on top of us when we sleep!

Such “cold weather” was enough to make the locals all reach for hats, scarves, gloves and jackets! At the hospital, patients were bundled up under  blankets  and many of them kept their head covered in an attempt to feel warmer.   Many of the knitted hats made by the ladies of the St Christopher’s knitting group came into their own and were very warmly received – excuse the pun! Caregivers congregated outside in the sun when ousted from the wards due to doctors’ rounds. This was such a contrast to most of the time here, when we all try hard to avoid the sun as it is just too hot!

Traffic lights

Battambang has just had traffic lights installed at several locations around the city.  The lights are the fancy variety which tell you how long it is until the light changes for the direction you want to go.  This is pretty amazing, since Battambang is Cambodia’s  second largest city and it has taken this long to get them here!  Mind you, their existence doesn’t necessarily mean a lot to the locals who are just as likely to ignore them in the same way they disregard traffic rules! One popular trick at intersections is to avoid the lights and duck off through gas station forecourts or bypass them by going onto the footpath!  One complicated intersection near the hospital,  with roads in five directions is now much more manageable. As an interesting aside, the Khmer phrase for traffic light is “plerng stop” which is literally “light or electricity stop!”

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were in town!

Yes, Battambang was the scene for a movie currently being made, directed by Hollywood’s Angelina Jolie who, with her husband Brad Pitt and adopted Khmer son, Maddox, was seen around town – not by me, I might add!  The movie is “First They Killed My Father” and is set in the 1960s. It is based on a non-fiction book  published in 2000, written by Loung Ung, a Cambodian author and survivor of the Pol Pot regime.  It is a personal account of her experiences during the Khmer Rouge years.

Buildings in the central town area were retrospectively refurbished to look as they did then.  Many of them now have French signs on their frontages.  Huge car transporters rolled into town carrying cars of the day, joined by big trucks carrying other scenery and effects to recreate the times accurately.

All this excitement in town caused huge disruption and rush hour traffic – yes, we do have a small rush hour here! – ground to a halt due to the closure of bridges and streets where filming is took place.  Venturing out anywhere needed careful thought and it was advisable to have a couple of alternative routes, albeit round about, planned in advance.

A word from Angelina about the movie: “I was deeply affected by Loung’s book [‘First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers’]. It deepened forever my understanding of how children experience war and are affected by the emotional memory of it. And it helped me draw closer still to the people of Cambodia, my son’s homeland.” Angelina Jolie Pitt.

Meanwhile at the hospital

My programme continues with its usual mix of tragedy and delight.  I frequently ponder about the range of emotions I see and sometimes experience during the course of a working day.  One minute I am moved to tears seeing a small girl with severe head trauma as a result of coming off a motorbike not having worn a helmet.  She has just been sent home as the hospital can’t do anything for her.  A nurse said to me today, “Only God can help her”.  Please join me in praying that He will, indeed, do a miracle and restore this little girl to her family.

The next minute, I witness delight on the face of a young man finally able to go home after a very long stay in hospital due to the severity of his leg injury – also sustained in a motorbike accident.  “I can walk!” he says as he goes past me on his way to the gate and back into the real world.

Monks and jigsaw puzzles

Would seem to be an unlikely mix – but mix they did the other day in the women’s ward!  I went into the ward with a group of Youth with a Mission volunteers who came to spend time with the patients.  We took in a puzzle for a long-term patient to tackle, then went to deliver a game to another patient.  When I went back to check on progress with the jigsaw, I was somewhat surprised to see that a visiting monk was joining in the task of trying to complete the puzzle!  Khmer people don’t usually do jigsaw puzzles and the logic and methodology  needed to complete the task aren’t usually part of their skill set.  I usually have to explain how to go about doing it.  Not this time!  The monk was doing a great job.  You would have thought he does puzzles like that all the time!


What a variety of situations we encounter in our lives here! Hopefully this glimpse of life in Battambang will provide a peek into our world and help you picture more accurately where we are and what we are doing.


This was originally posted to the McCormick’s blog. You can sign up to receive email notifications from them by visiting their blog and filling in your email address on the right side of the page (scroll down a little to find it). Click here.

A glimpse of the clinic

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In August we sent a newsletter fundraising for equipment for a new church-based clinic. Thank you to everyone who donated! We had a great response and now have all the money that we need. Phil has done all the purchasing and along with his students has been operating the new mobile clinic for a few months already. Recently Pagna, one of his key student leaders, pointed out how he liked working each Monday and Wednesday at the church-based community clinics because ironically, he could now do better quality dentistry in the middle of paddy fields than he could at the university clinic! As planned we have kept the extractions free and the villagers all seem happy to pay for the $2 fillings.

Take the tour by watching the video above.

Dental Clinic in Cambodia

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Here’s a short video from Phil Sussex giving us a glimpse of one of the rural dental clinics he is involved with. It was filmed particularly to thank those who donated towards clinic materials and equipment.

The newly revamped Monday and Wednesday clinics are working out really well as a good venue to help local people with their dental problems, as well as to train dental students and to encourage the four Christian students Phil is working with closely.

Social Work in Cambodia

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The last update posted here from the McCormicks focused on Anne’s work. But what about Anthony’s new social work project?

In the same time-frame that I have set up my programme, Anthony has set up a social work department at the hospital, starting from scratch, in an environment where social work is not well understood. This is typical of Cambodia, not just the hospital. He began in October last year, working alone initially, developing policies and writing procedures to set the department on a good footing to a professional standard.

A translator joined him and together they worked on making all the documentation bilingual, as there is very little by way of social work resources in the Khmer language. This is due to the fact that it is a relatively new discipline in Cambodia, the first students graduated from a degree programme run in Phnom Penh in conjunction with a Washington university as recently as 2012.

Two fulltime social workers and a counsellor have since joined the team. They have found, as they visit patients in the wards, that there is a huge need for their services. The lives of so many at the hospital have changed forever because of the accidents or incidents which they have experienced. The social work team works to try to help them overcome the difficulties and challenges they will face in their daily lives when they are discharged from the hospital.

Training and mentoring the social work staff is a big part of Anthony’s work and is an aspect that he enjoys.  He has developed connections with social workers in other organisations and they join his team for monthly training sessions.

Anthony feels that, like me, he is putting his past training and experience to good use and the result is lives better equipped to face a different future.

Anthony’s social work team is pictured above: Sothea (translator), Sreymom (social worker), Sitha (Counsellor), Visal (Social worker)

Nothing is wasted

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As I work away happily at the hospital these days, I can’t help but think back to all the training and experience I have had throughout my life and realise afresh that it is all being put to good use as I pursue my current role. My library training and desire to put books into the hands of Khmer people who, traditionally, are not great readers, meant that one of the first things I did when I started in this role was to purchase some books, have a trolley made by the hospital maintenance team and trundle around the wards several times a week to deliver books to the patients and their caregivers – my own mobile library!

The book trolley was cobbled together from old IV drip stands and other scrap metal from retired hospital equipment of various types! I found what I needed in a shop, photographed it, showed it to the team and, bingo – a week later I had my very own recycled trolley. It works a treat!

Almost all patients have a caregiver staying with them 24/7, as nurses in this country give out medication and do dressings, but they don’t feed, bathe or toilet their patients – those tasks are left to relatives to do.

Every day is different – I never quite know what I’ll be doing from one day to the next. My interaction with the patients is governed by the schedules of the doctors and medical staff who do the ward rounds daily. If the rounds are completed efficiently, I am able to spend some time in the mornings with patients. If there are delays, I have to work around the doctors’ schedules, which may mean little or no patient contact. If that is the case, I usually try to do some activities with the caregivers.

I have found that the best way to generate interest in what I have to offer is to take an activity into the sitting areas outside the wards and just start doing it. I am usually joined quite quickly by folk curious to see what I’m doing and before long, quite a crowd gathers and they all join in. It is obvious to me as I watch that my activities are stress-relieving, as the relatives and caregivers chat away to each other and laugh – a welcome release from the rather tense atmosphere in the wards where there is often so much pain and tragedy.

Nothing is wasted.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve graduated from the Recycling 101 class with flying colours. I’m taken back to my Guiding days when I learned “a Guide is thrifty”, or to the times my Mum said “be careful and don’t waste anything!” Both Mum and my Guide leader would be proud of me as I really have got into recycling and making something out of nothing in a big way – a direct result of having to be a creative problem-solver as my project is reliant solely on donations (of money and resources) and currently receives no hospital funding.

Let me share some of the ways I recycle with you:

The paper I use as a base for the fabric pulp has had a previous life in the hospital office or social work department, or as pages that children in the hospital have coloured in and discarded when they have finished. The cotton fabric scraps I use in the papermaking machine are all pre-loved and started their days as clothing, bedding, towels or tiny bits of fabric of no use by Sokim who sews for the “Days for Girls” project I have started. (Visit to find out more about this worthwhile project) A tailor in the market keeps small scraps of traditional Khmer silk for me for use in trimming the cards we make My friend who runs a foot massage project which uses coconut oil products made by her staff, sends the leftover husks my way Sugarcane husks are rescued from the roadside where they have been discarded by the man who makes sugarcane drink Flowers from the Bougainvillea bushes near my room are carefully removed from the pile of pruning done by the gardener, to boil up to make dye for the more uninteresting coloured paper we produce Fabric given to me for the papermaking machine, if it is not pure cotton or linen, is redirected and is sewn into bags in which toys and games are kept and circulated to patients Scalpels past their use-by date make great mini craft knives! Many hospital patients have benefitted from donations of reading glasses from an optometrist in Melbourne, brought here by the Care for Cambodians group which visits a couple of times a year. The two most common reasons I am given when asking patients if they would like to borrow a book to look at are “Knyom ot jeh arn” (I don’t know how to read”) and “Knyom ot merl kern” (I cannot see).  While we can’t help with the first reason, the donated glasses go a long way helping people who otherwise couldn’t read the books I offer them.

I find it very satisfying to see how the various aspects of my project inter-connect and especially, how leftovers from one part of the programme, or from another hospital department, can be utilised. I continue to marvel at how God has equipped both me for the work I am currently doing, as well as the programme with resources. My room, empty except for basic furniture when I started just eleven months ago, is now bulging with equipment. My heart is warmed and a smile crosses my face when I reflect on how I am making a difference in the lives of hospital patients who have met tragedy in their lives.  That is what I came to do. Thank you, Lord!


The above post has been shortened. To see the original click here.

More hands needed

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I’ve been having a great time interacting with patients at World Mate Emergency Hospital in Battambang, Cambodia. But I have a significant problem. As it turns out, I only have one pair of hands and that isn’t nearly enough to handle all the work that needs to be done!

If you would like to help out, there is an opportunity for short term volunteers in my activity programme.  Are you planning a holiday in Asia?  Could you call in to help for a while? Drop me an email at if this interests you.

Church in Cambodia

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I figured you might be interested in finding out a little bit about what church looks like for us Sunday by Sunday.

Christianity in Cambodia has its roots in Battambang, so perhaps it is not surprising that, although there are many temples in this city, there are also around 35 Christian churches – not a bad number for a Buddhist city of around 200 000 people!

The church we attend is called Cambodia Christian Church.  The current church building was built in 2011.  Visiting and helping sick people, the elderly, widows, assisting poor children, orphans and people in need is an ongoing work of the church.  Bible lessons, English language, music instruction and song are shared throughout the week to children without cost.

The Sunday service commences at 8.30am.  The average attendance each week is around 70 people, and unlike the other churches we have attended since coming to Cambodia in 2011, there are proportionately quite a few older folk – older than us!  There are also young adults and children and often, visiting teams from Youth With a Mission, which has had a long association over the years with our church and which is very active in Battambang, due mainly to the presence of seven universities in the city.  We have teams regularly from Colorada Springs and Montana in the US.  A number of the young people in the church have had involvement with YWAM in the States and, on their return, they assist with translation as their English is usually pretty good. The service is primarily in Khmer, but translation of the main components of the service happens when there is a significant number of foreigners – which turns out to be most weeks!

A typical Sunday service opens in prayer and then we sing three or four worship songs, often songs we know – like Hillsong, as well as some homegrown Khmer songs.   Like everything here, the music is LOUD!  (Khmer people are not known for doing anything quietly and church music is no exception!).  We have a music group, consisting of a keyboard, guitar(s), drums and, sometimes, a tro –  traditional Khmer fiddle – played by an older man.

After the worship in which we all participate, there is usually a musical item from a large group of church members, both men and women.  They sing from the hymnal and the hymn is a traditional Khmer one, which is to say the tune is rather strange and unpredictable and, to my ear, not particularly musical!  Sometimes the children from the family ministry or the young adults perform a song, usually with actions, and these items are quite delightful.  Next comes the offertory (dongwaie) and we all parade up to the front of the church in a line and put our offering in a blue crate type offertory box.

Pastor Khiev Phon (pictured above) then shares the notices.  We are exhorted to pray for church members who are unwell or who have a need of some sort.   It is not unusual for the pastor to announce the passing of an older church member, or someone from another church.  There is a special fund which operates amongst the Christian community in Battambang and, when someone dies, a financial contribution is made from Funeral Association members, to help cover the cost of the funeral.  Traditionally, funerals here take place at the temple and the locals are cremated there too, but this is obviously not appropriate for Christians, thus the existence of the special fund.  Sometimes the pastor announces a special appeal, for example, to build a fence or make an addition to the roof and a second offering is received for this purpose.

Next comes the sermon but it is not usually the pastor who preaches!  He is almost 78 years old and is desperately trying to find a successor.  He usually invites one of the elders or a visiting preacher to preach.  Sometimes our American friend and retired pastor Don Whitney preaches and we can be sure of a good message – in English! – when he does.  Don is usually a quiet, reserved man – but, when he preaches, it is as if he undergoes a character change and frequently has us shouting out “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord” when cued!  He also loves to dance and often has us dancing as he finishes delivering his message!  Sometimes one of the YWAM group shares the message, so all up, we have quite a variety of preachers.

The service concludes with Pastor Khiev Phon reflecting briefly on the message of the sermon and praying.  We then sing the doxology and it is time to go home.

We have had a few particularly memorable services recently. One Sunday recently, the pastor introduced a new convert to the congregation – a teenage girl who had been witnessed to by her sister and had made a decision that, like her sister, she wants to follow Jesus.  These two young girls face quite a lot of opposition from their Buddhist family, so practising their faith is an ongoing challenge for them.

Perhaps the most notable service was last Sunday when the pastor shared his testimony and gave us an informative presentation about the history of the church. Pastor Khiev Phon spoke of his early years, growing up with his grandmother as his parents had separated. He became a Christian through the ministry of American missionaries and his grandparents were particularly influential in his Christian development. His grandfather was a pastor, who attended Bible School in Battambang in 1927 and began his ministry there. Mrs Ouch Dyna, Pastor Khiev Phon’s wife, has also been a Christian for many years. Her father was a Pastor and a missionary to Thailand. They have seven children and 18 grandchildren, most of whom are involved in the church, which Pastor Khiev Phon started in 1997 after quite a few years as a teacher and school principal. In his testimony he spoke of God’s miraculous intervention to save him from the hands of the Khmer Rouge soldiers, who usually killed anyone who was educated. It was a very moving occasion and concluded with us gathering around Pastor Khiev Phon and praying for him as he currently has some health issues.

I found an interesting blog on the internet about Pastor Khiev Phon.  It was written a few years ago by a YWAM team member and I recommend you read it for more information about this remarkable, yet humble man who loves and serves His Lord faithfully. Click here to read it.

To see the original post by Anne, visit their blog at

The view from above in Cambodia

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The Sussex family have returned to Cambodia after a season of Leave and Home Service here in New Zealand. Becky is returning to her role teaching at the HOPE International School. In fact, the whole family have connections to the school: the Children attend the school and Phil is on the school’s board.

The school exists to support missionary and other Christian expatriate families who are working with the people of Cambodia and the surrounding regions. The school embraces the diversity of God’s people, with over 400 students representing over 25 nationalities, from Preschool to Year 12.

Since a picture really is worth a thousand words, Phil and Becky have sent us this video clip that helps us get an idea of what the school looks like and how big it really is.