Cambodian Refuge Experience

Cambodian Camp
- Actual photos taken by Doctor Smithson in the camp.

In 1989 I was approached by World Vision and asked if I would work on the Cambodian border in Thailand.

A number of other doctors with whom I had trained were asked similarly . Apparently New Zealand and Australian trained doctors were considered to be good at working in situations where facilities were limited and access to sophisticated medical tests were unavailable.

The camp I worked at was built from bamboo in a disused rice paddy near a village called Sa Kaeo close to the Thai Cambodian border. It was fully fenced in and controlled by the Thai army. Food and water supplies were trucked in daily by the Thai government. It held about 20,000 people.
The camp had been built, along with others, to hold large numbers of refugees from Cambodia.

Cambodian People
- Actual photos taken by Doctor Smithson in the camp.

These refugees had fled across the border to escape the political situation in Cambodia. The government head was Pol Pot who had decided to make his country revert to an agricultural peasant society and embarked on a genocide programme to wipe out all educated and trained people. Many thousands of people were killed, often by being struck on the back of the neck by a hoe. People were killed if they wore glasses because if you wore glasses you could probably read and hence were probably educated.
When I arrived the camp had been established for some months and had a school, hospital wards, out patient clinics and a church, all built from bamboo.
Food and medical supplies were adequate but there were strange anomalies, good supplies of antibiotics but no soap.

There was a wide range of medical problems, one of the more serious was malaria. That part of the country was a hot spot for malaria and the local malarial parasite was resistant to the usual anti-malarial medications. On a daily basis patients would be carried to the hospital by “ambulance” which was a blanket slung on a bamboo pole. These people would be unconscious and fitting with cerebral malaria. Fortunately they would respond to a large dose of quinine given intravenously. It was quite scary being the only doctor in the camp when on night duty and hearing mosquitoes bussing around all night.

Dr. WGH Smithson

The situation got worse in the camp with a political change in Cambodia. Vietnam invaded Cambodia for a brief period. Numbers of Pol Pot soldiers fled across the border to Thailand to escape the invading Vietnamese soldiers and were also put into Sa Kaeo camp by the Thai government. So the camp had Pol Pot supporters and anti- Pol Pot refugees mixed together. The Pol Pot soldiers attempted to intimidate the refugees and persecuted those Christian people who attended the church. One episode occurred when I was there. There were large metal water tanks in the camp. They were built on small legs that held them off the ground. The Pol Pot soldiers seized a Pastor, put him in an empty tank and lit a fire under the tank while they hit the tank with bamboo sticks. By the time that Thai soldiers could intervene and restore order the Pastor had blistered burnt feet and was deafened.

When I left the camp after some months the situation in Cambodia had eased and some of the refugees chose to return to Cambodia and were bussed back there by the Thais. Others chose to stay in the camps , often for years, in the hope of eventually immigrating to other countries.

The Cambodian Christian Children's Fund

Hidden Treasure
The garbage dump may have relocated but the scavenging goes on. Little does this girl knows that the land below her will soon be her new classroom; CCF is undertaking the schoolhouse construction in May 2011.
Saly's Live
After suffering domestic problems and neglect, this happy 4 year old has found her paradise within the walls of CCF's Community Center. She is fast catching up on the missing years of childhood's joy.
Study in School
This little one sits front and center, eager to learn, at our newly opened Toul Ampil Satellite School.

Founded in 2004, Cambodian Children's Fund provides life-changing education, nourishment and healing to vulnerable children from some of Cambodia's most destitute communities. In the beginning, our world revolved around the health and well-being of 87 youngsters. Today we care for more than 1,200 children and extend our services to provide for their families and communities in crisis.

CCF was founded by former film executive Scott Neeson, who traveled to Cambodia on holiday in early 2003 and found his life changed by the desperate circumstances and unlikely courage of Phnom Penh's most impoverished children. Today he serves as CCF’s Executive Director, performing daily fieldwork and overseeing the operations of CCF's various facilities.

Accepting responsibility for a child's comprehensive care might appear to be a single mission, but it isn't. We offer education, health care, nutrition and safe shelter. These elements stand as four interdependent walls, joined together with dedication and compassion to provide a full house. In order to develop and heal, the connection with family and community is essential. Allowing the parents the opportunity to lift themselves from poverty — while ensuring that the child's siblings have access to education and helping rebuild a sense of community — not only provides for the greater good but also alleviates the adult-like burdens of the child. The majority of children in our care were former garbage pickers and primary caretakers of their siblings, living and working on Phnom Penh's former municipal garbage dump.

In addition to the top-quality programs that form the backbone of CCF's education centers, we run a broad spectrum of fully integrated community services that collectively offer the strongest possible safety net for families in crisis. Every outreach project we develop flows from the realization and acceptance that CCF's children have links and roots that need nurturing if they themselves are to fully prosper and grow.

CCF is dedicated to giving its students the chance to discover their individual voices. We are proud to see our students demonstrate intolerance for injustice, a strong sense of self-worth and a deep sense of compassion and respect for their communities and country — ultimately honing their potential to emerge as leaders and progressive spokespeople enacting positive social change.

Sponsored Children

Pich Sam Ien
Pich Sam Ien, 10 years old. Our first child sponsored.

Pich Sam Ien

Sam-Ien was born in Pursat province. There are 6 people in his family; his parents and 4 children. Because of the harshness of their lives in Pursat, they moved to Battambang province in the hope of making a better living there but not long after that, Sam-Ien’s father died, leaving him and his brothers to be supported and brought up by their mother. They then moved on to Phnom Penh and soon found themselves in Steung Meanchey, the site of the city’s former garbage dump.

At Steung Meanchey, Sam-Ien’s oldest brother, who works as a construction worker, doing day work on building sites had married and everyone went to live with him in the same rented room. His mother found work as a restaurant cleaner while his oldest brother works as a construction worker. His sister in law and Sam-Ien’s brothers could only bring in money by working as garbage scavengers. Sam-Ien used to be in grade 1 at school but he stopped because his family just didn’t have the money to pay for his education. He likes reading, cooking rice and cleaning the house. He was taken onto CCF’s education program in July 2011.


Dearest Peter,

I am really excited to drop you this message! I want to tell you that I received a bike! Thank you indeed for your kind heart to me. I do love the bike! I now ride it to my English class every day. It is very useful for my school work. Thank you again and again!

With the email today, you will see some photos of my bike.

Samien 3
Samien 1 Samien 2

I hope to hear back from you soon. I love you, Peter.
Lots of love,