When we travel, especially to countries in Asia and Africa, we ineluctably get confronted with extreme and desperate poverty. What people, in particular women and children, have to go through is often beyond humanity.
Over the years I got particularly involved in two sustainable health and poverty alleviation projects I’d like to briefly introduce here:
Kantha Bopha Childrens Hospital in Cambodia
In 1974/75 Dr. Beat Richner, a Swiss Doctor and philanthropist, was sent to Cambodia by the Swiss Red Cross (SRC) to work at Children's Hospital. He had to leave when the Khmer Rouge invaded the country. In December 1991 Dr. Richner was asked by the Cambodian government to rebuild and manage the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital, which had been destroyed during the war. In March 1992 he created a foundation in Zurich, moved to Phnom Penh and began with the actual reconstruction work. In November 1992 Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital was back in operation. Over the following years the hospital was progressively extended and modified to meet the most urgent needs of its patients. Since then Beat Richner has dedicated his work and life to the people of Cambodia and more hospitals were built.
Kantha Bopha has become a highly respected model for the entire Southeast Asian region. It shows how efficient direct medical and humanitarian aid - i.e. correct medication, unhampered by corruption, targeted long-term training, curative and preventive medicine as well as research - can be.
Over the last 23 years the Kantha Bopha hospitals have treated 13 Million outpatients and 1.56 Million seriously ill children requiring hospitalisation. The children and women not able to afford health treatment get it free of charge. This all is possible due to the tremendous work of Dr. Beat Richner, the hospital crew and donations. Most of the funding comes from private individuals in Switzerland.
In 2009 I’ve visited the hospital and one of his donation concerts live while I was in Cambodia and have read his book “Kantha Bopha – a Swiss doctor in Cambodia”.
If you like to donate or read more about Kantha Bopha please visit their website.
Another project I got personally involved is
Future for Children in Bali
During my time in Bali I met a former Swiss banker, who has initiated sustainable development project in one of the poorest area of Bali. Bali, often referred and known as a tropical tourist paradise has also its dark side:
You cannot NOT see them along the streets in Ubud; the beggin women with their children. They come by foot over the mountains to Ubud for a few days to try to get some money to be able to buy some rice and other essentials for their family before they walk several hours all the way back to their villages, just to do it all over again a few days later. It’s beyond humanity, and as many other examples in the world show, begging is no solution – it is not sustainable at all and beyond human dignity. Before the project the people in Muntigunung were not registered and so they had no access to health service or other basic governmental services. No one deserves to live like that. In addition, extreme water shortage in that area leads to malnutrition and a lack of hygienic standards.
The key of successful and constructive help projects is sustainability and empowering the people to help themselves step by step, while respecting and honouring their dignity, tradition and culture.
I was impressed about the consequent principles the association follows in their project „Zukunft für Kinder“ (Hope for Children) and like to invite you to have a closer look at it:
First step of the project was to help them to build sustainable water supply. The showed them simple but effective ways how to longterm store the little water they get once a year by creating big water tanks and how to – e.g. trough uv light purification – to use it as drinking water.
After securing and maintaining a clean water supply, they initiated a livelihood and health program with the aim of creating one job per each family. They train the villagers in various activities and crafts in order to provide them with the prospects to improve their livelihood themselves in empowering the people to help themselves and to earn their own money to live from it.
E.g. they create little baskets from palm tree leaves (see pictures below). The baskets reach Swiss quality standard and get shipped to namable companies worldwide as promotion and christmas gifts for their customers with their logo woven on top of the basket.
The third focus is on education. Once the basic needs of the villagers are secured the association aims to provide education for every child. The basic needs especially also include to get rid of malnutrition. It is well known by research that the lack of essential vitamins in the first three years leaves irreparable brain damage. This all leads into a devastating vicious cycle of poverty.
Notably impressive and creative is how the association thought about the long foot walk the begging women do to get to Ubud. They thought why don’t we enable them to do it the other way round while creating a job through this. It means the women now became trekking guides, taking tourist in small groups – the small number is extremely important to respect and preserve their tradition and culture – to their villages. During the trekking the tourist experiences a spectacular scenery and views while getting personally involved with the local people.
For more information: zukunft-fuer-kinder.ch/en/
In addition, for many years I'm a supporter of Helvetas in various project to improve the lives of people in less privileged areas of the world.