Creature comforts are sometimes in short supply in Cambodia, but there are certainly a lot of comfortable creatures living in my house off Road 6.
Word has spread among the mosquito population that a warm, delicious mammal with yummy A+ blood is serving up a buffet every night between the hours of 9pm and 6am. All you can eat. A massive colony of ants has relocated to the warm, moist bathroom Tropical properties appear to be all the rage with this rather large family of Formicidae. There was a good pile of them congregating on my bar of soap this morning. While it is never too early to learn good hygiene skills, they did not have the proper permitting to gather in a large group, so I washed them down the drain.
At the top of the food chain existing in my residence are the geckos who chirp happily at the sheer amount of snacks my other roommates provide. In fact, their chirping was so loud, I got out of the lukewarm shower I was enjoying with the ants and checked to see who was knocking at the door.
What one needs for creature comforts is all relative and important to put in perspective. Certainly, my home in San Marino, California and my home in Siem Reap, Cambodia are about as far apart as you can get. But my flat in Siem Reap is a luxury compared to the homes our Safe Haven families live in. Some of the very poorest live in little more than a grass hut. But those simple homes are filled with touches that reflect the love, community and families that live there.
Little Soheap’s mom and grandmother have transformed a large pallet at their home into a comfortable nursery piled high with clothes, supplies and toys. He just celebrated his 1st birthday and his family is aware there will likely not be a second due to the severity of his hydrocephalus. But for today, they are proud of how well he is eating and are happy with the new pillow we brought to try and support his head. He arches his back to let his grandmother know he wants to be picked up and she carefully gathers him into her arms and gives him the bottle his mother has prepared. Roza, our Safe Haven project manager, spends a few moments talking to the family to see how they are doing as well. Caring for Sopheap requires a lot of teamwork. He needs constant care and the whole family pitches in to make sure his needs are met. Soheap’s grandfather and mother have had a skin rash that has not gotten better and Jess examines the rash before digging through her endless bags of supplies and producing a topical cream for them to try.
Although our official mission statement says that we are a therapeutic and medical outreach for children with disabilities and medical needs, providing a measure of support for the whole family is equally as important. Many of these families sacrifice so much in order to try and do the very best for their children. There are missed days in the rice field because a child needs to come to the hospital or an older brother or sister who cannot go to school because they are caring for their sibling so they are not left alone. Taking the time to listen to our families and provide them with whatever support we can goes a long way towards strengthening those bonds which are vital to the success of a child’s care. In everyday life, people toss out the phrase “How are you?” without ever really expecting an honest answer. Most of us cannot comprehend what life would be like if everything we had was stripped away. If we had no resources to do anything to help our children or ourselves. If we found ourselves viewing the gift of a filter so our children could drink clean water a luxury.
In addition to visiting the Safe Haven families, Roza spends a lot of time on the phone calling families to check in with them and find out how things are going. Sometimes, parents call him if they have questions and often, they can be the same questions Roza may have answered on another day. But his kindness and patience never wavers. When I first met him and interviewed him for the job, he had zero experience working for an NGO or children with disabilities. But he told me something I never forget. He told me about a time his little daughter was in the hospital after a motorbike accident and how scared he was as a parent to feel helpless and uncertain, with no one to explain things to him or ask him how he was coping. He told me he believed he would be able to understand what these Safe Haven parents were feeling. That deep empathy is what makes him an amazing man and Safe Haven team member.
He cares. He listens.
And having someone do that may be the best creature comfort of them all.