Tag Archives: Leprosy


An Article from the KHMER TIMES Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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Students in a classroom at the Choice Center in a squatter village in Kandal Province, south of Phnom Penh. (KT Photo: Billy Otter)

Back to Basics: An NGO That Works

Thursday, 16 October 2014; News by Khmer Times/Billy Otter.


KANDAL PROVINCE (Khmer Times) – Good intentions are getting bad reputations in the often opaque world of Cambodia’s 4,000 NGOs.

Reports abound of inflated salaries to directors like Somaly Mam, orphanages where most “orphans” have a parent, and “voluntourism” where well-meaning foreigners pay exorbitant rates to work at charities. These problems fuel a website: “Scambodia.”

NGOs are under increasing pressure for transparency, starting with posting their accounts online. In response, NGO fundraising appeals increasingly state what percent of funds go for programs, and what percent go for fundraising.

Despite bad publicity, Cambodia is expected to enjoy its favored status as “the world’s cause.” In that light, the Khmer Times highlights one NGO that channels a maximum amount of donations to helping poor Cambodians.

Choice is a small grassroots aid group, operated since 2006 by expatriates in Phnom Penh. Its full name is: Charitable Humanitarian Organization In Cambodia by Expats.

One minute of tapping on a computer keyboard, and Choice’s accounts appear on a computer screen. Go to the website of the Charity Commission for England and Wales. Type “Choice Cambodia” into the site’s search engine. Up pops a one-page sheet detailing “Receipts” and “Payments.”

Elsewhere, a quick exploration of the Choice website yields a monthly list of donors, by names and amounts.

“The books are always honest, balanced and open,” said Srey Leak Kasna, the charity’s auditor, who donates her time. “The charity does good work for the poor people in the villages, so I am happy to help however I can.”

Judging by their website and by visits to their work site in Kandal province, Choice accomplished a lot last year with a total budget of $71,000.

Their secret? Real volunteerism. No expat is paid. Only the Khmer, with the exception of Ms. Kasna, receive salaries. Expats working with Choice include: a retired New York filmmaker, a retired British policeman, a Dutch cook, and a German internet entrepreneur.

Choice was started here by Ross Wright, a retired Australian telecommunications worker. Now 70 years old and the charity’s secretary. Mr. Wright says donors should ask tough questions of NGOs.

“People feel betrayed by these stories, but they haven’t done their homework either,” he said, referring to the bad publicity. “Before you donate, have a look to see if they are a fully and currently registered charity. Ask them questions. If they don’t give the answers you want, be wary. Very wary” Choice is secular.

“We do not want to change them, or convert them into anything else. All we want to do is improve the lives they have,” said Mr. Wright, a native of Geelong, Australia who favors broad brimmed hats in the tropical sun.

Wright’s group focuses on a poor village of squatters located one hour by car southeast of Phnom Penh. On arrival at the village eight years ago, Choice’s first step was to provide clean drinking water.

“We found that wells had been dug by NGOs for these villages of squatters, but no one had tested the water,” he recalled. “The residents were always ill. And through testing, high levels of arsenic were discovered.”

Choice installed water filters and cisterns for safe storage of water.

“Once they had access to clean water for drinking and cooking, the symptoms we’d been seeing began to disappear,” Mr. Wright said.

By collecting donations from friends overseas, expat volunteers were able to create the Choice Center. Now two adjacent rented buildings, this center has classrooms, a computer lab, a sewing room, a hair salon, and a dental facility donated by a Malaysian supporter. Support groups have been formed in Singapore, Germany and Australia.

The German group donated money for the purchase of a 3-ton truck. It serves a dual purpose – water truck for water deliveries and school bus to take village children to a state school.

Foreign donations pay for scholarships – for auto mechanics, hair styling, university, and even for one village youth who is at medical school.

Two young women who studied hair styling in Phnom Penh, decided to take jobs there, delaying opening of the village hair salon.

“What are you going to do?” asked Mr. Wright. “You can’t stand in the way of their opportunities.”

Choice is negotiating to sew uniforms for school children in Manchester, England.

“The girls in the sewing center are paid a wage, and it gives them training in a marketable skill,” Wright said, referring to the Cambodia’s garment factories which employ 750,000 workers.

Twice a month, a medical-dental day is held at the Choice Center. Villagers are transported by truck to the Center. There, they receive attention from a volunteer dentist and a paramedic.

“Most dental programs focus on children only, and stop at 18 years of age,” Mr. Wright said. “Some of these villagers have suffered with poor dental health for many, many years. So we offer the service to anyone from within the villages we serve.”

Serious medical cases are forwarded to hospitals and funded by Choice. They have paid for: a heart operation on a boy, facial reconstruction for a baby born with no palate, and on-going care for a man suffering from leprosy.

Mr. Wright said of hospital costs in Cambodia: “Here you have to provide your own nursing care and your own food. We also give them money to get back to their village.”


Motorbike for Channy

CHOICE have been supporting Channy and his devistated family for several years now. Since mum broke her neck and was unable to walk Channy has cared for her. His Uncle Savart lives with them, he has severe leprosy, sadly his wife has recently left him. Now there is no one able to work, we have managed to get Channy into final year of High School by paying for extra tuition. We hope to employ Channy with CHOICE as a driver, in order for him to get to and from driving lessons we have purchased this secondhand motor bike and presented it to him during Khmer New Year 2014.



The Tragic Saga for Sokha and her Family Continues.

The Family Hut.Off for months of Physio in a Tuk Tuk Sokha cannot sit up.1824283558_n

One of the saddest stories I had to write about in Cambodia was about Sokha and her family.

Sokha, once a hard worker fell off the back of a moving truck and broke her neck in two places. Having little money she could not afford an operation, she lay in agony for 10 weeks. A plea to CHOICE from a worker at Phnom Penh Post came to my attention. An operation was immediately arranged after I visited the dirt floored hut where she laid and shared with chickens. I was staggered to find that her brother Savuth was riddled with Leprosy and was unable to walk. Then there was Vetna a little girl who was so shy she always hid from myself or any volunteers that came along to help. Sokha had a son that was sixteen, Channy, he had to quit high school to care for his mum, his daily duties became feeding, dressing, bathing, cooking and toileting his mum.

Fortunately there was one family member that could work Savuth’s wife, she worked in the nearby garment factory and earned $80-$90 per month. Not enough to feed the now devastated family let alone treat the tragic medical issues that confronted them. CHOICE stepped in and has been caring for the family for two years now. Sokha is probably as good as she will ever be, still paralyzed down her right hand side and has urinary incontinence. We have arranged for Savuth to have one leg amputated the other will be removed soon, he now has one artificial leg. Having had Leprosy for about 20 years he was in a bad way, he could not close his eyes and was suffering from very bad ulcers on both legs and feet. One eye has been operated on and he can now close this, we continue to arrange medical procedures for Savuth. CHOICE provide 1 bag of rice to the family each month, Diapers and Multi Vitamins for Sokha, education support for both Channy and Vetna, school uniforms, books, transport and fees.

If that’s not bad enough they have been given a few weeks to vacate the chicken shed they call home, the owner has sold the 1 acre property to the Garment Factory nearby for US$200,000. We once thought it a good idea to employ a house keeper to relieve Channy, no one applied for fear of catching Leprosy. We thought they could move into the CHOICE Center, but fear again of Leprosy would cause parents to pull their children out of the Center. So now we need to find a rental property nearby the current hut so as not to disrupt their current schooling and work facility for the wife of Savuth. We need sponsors that will reliably commit to help this family, please help this family, they have suffered extreme illness and poverty.

Email me direct on choicecambodia@live.com or tag your Paypal Donation Sokha. Many thanks, Ross Wright.

Leanne, Channy and Sokha._7635087_oVetna

Savuth with artificial leg.Sokha as she normally is.






Fighting Against Leprosy

I have been helping Savuth on a monthly basis for nearly 2 years now. He has severe Leprosy and cannot walk, his hands are no good and he has eye problems as well. We arranged to have his worst leg amputated some months ago and now he is ready for his first artificial leg. We have taken him to the Leprosy Hospital and together with Veterans International an artificial leg has been fitted for the cost of $2.50. The low charge is because Savuth does not have any money or property, he survives mainly with the help of CHOICE. Now we are providing him with daily food money at the Hospital, and an electric kettle to heat water for his breakfast noodles. Its been over a decade since he last walked, and its only a few meters now with the aid of his wheelchair. After just a few paces he was exhausted, but he is a fighter and will master his problems.  Ross Wright
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The Latest News on Sokha 8th December 2011

Many of you will have followed the story about Sokha and her 16yo son Channy. For those who havn’t, Sokha 53, fell off a moving truck in January 2011 and broke her neck in two places. CHOICE arranged and paid for an operation for her then followed this up with physio treatment. She has been at the Physio center for for more than 6 months, CHOICE have been seeing her twice a week bringing essential items, as well as caring for her brother at the hut, he has severe Leprosy. Channy quit school to care for his mum. In order for Channy to begin a normal school life again next year, CHOICE have been preparing an area next to the hut where Sokha can continue with her daily physio exercise. Sokha has come a long way, from being paralized to now being able to walk with the aid of a hand rail. We intend to build an adjoining bedroom on the same level so there will be no obsticles in her way. Financial help from  sponsors have enabled us to do the work, many thanks to Ad & Monique Schoonen and all the others. If you can help CHOICE do more work like this and help others please donate on our website. www.choice-cambodia.org

Desperate Cambodian Family Needing Help

On Tuesday the 8th March 2011 after being asked for help CHOICE visited an extremely devastated family on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

CHOICE was contacted by Bill Jones from the US and a friend of  his Samnang who works for Phnom Penh Post. We agreed to help so Samnang took us to meet the family of  four, Sokha her son Channy, her brother Savuth and his wife  Somali. A friend allows them to live  in a little hut along with the chickens.  Channy,  a 16yo.  has had  to stop going to High School, to mind his Uncle and Mother. She fell off the back of a truck in January and suffered spinal damage.  She has lost the use of the right hand side of her body and cannot sit, she has to lie down continually, her condition may be curable with an operation.  Channy also looks after his Uncle Savuth now that his Mother cannot, the Uncle appears to have Leprosy and has lost most of his fingers and toes, he cannot walk. Somali is the only one who can work and she earns US$55 per month at a clothing factory, this does not provide enough for all their needs.

We need caring people to perhaps part sponsor or get a group together to help this family on a day to day basis as well as finance treatment for Sokha, it appears the condition of  Savuth has gone too far though he needs treatment for pain.

Friends – International Cambodia, were also contacted and are going to help the family. They have agreed to supply food and rice and depending on the recovery of Sokha, may be able to help 16yo. Channy with his education.

UPDATE: Friends have helped the family a little, most of their support is from CHOICE and our supporters. We now have the Schoonen family sponsoring the family.

CHOICE desperately need financial help to cover all the medical costs,  ALL DONATIONS WILL BE USED FOR THE MEDICAL COSTS.

UPDATE: On Monday the 14th March CHOICE contacted the CEO of the Children’s Surgical Centre, Dr. Jim Gollogly. He organized an Ambulance to take Sokha to the Children’s Surgical Centre. On Tuesday she was transferred to Calumet Hospital for X Rays and CAT Scans then back to C.S.C. The X Rays have shown that Sokha had a broken neck in two places and damaged spinal cord.

An operation was performed at C.S.C. on Wednesday 16th March. Sokha is no longer in pain, now we all wait to see the results. This may take many weeks and there will need to be extensive physiotherapy for her to gain improvement, CHOICE may provide a nurse to help with her physio and rehabilitation. Her son Channy remains at her bedside. Many thanks to Dr. Jim Gollogly and the staff of  C.S.C. for this.

CHOICE  volunteers transported Savuth on Friday the 18th of March to the Leprosy Hospital for assessment; his condition is serious and he will need at least two operations and a lot of treatment after that.

UPDATE:  On 28th March, Sokha and her son have returned back to what they call home. The good news is that Sokha can now sit to an angle of 45 degrees and most likely will gain more movement with time and exercise, we have managed to get her a wheelchair in anticipation that one day she can use it. The sad news is that only 4 people have offered to help with the medical costs. That includes myself one of the persons involved in drawing attention to this family crisis, and two of our friends. Every dollar counts  PLEASE  help us to help them by donating via our website. This money is not for CHOICE  but will be passed on to the Children’s Surgical Center so as they too can continue to help the very poor Cambodian adults and children who are either sick, injured or suffering from such things as acid attacks. We thank C.S.C. and staff so much for their help and support with Sokha and her family.

Savuth is still too scared to agree to have the operations  to improve his condition.