Spent a week in Cambodia at an eye hospital in the village of Kampong Chhnang. The mission was to help people get their sight back by removing the cataract and giving them lens implants so they can see again. (We gave 340 eyes their sight back! Also clearly, I am not the one operating on them 😛)
It was a humbling experience — not just from the perspective of giving sight back to these kind villagers, but to remember what is going on, on the other side of the world.
Our Little Bubble
It’s been a while since I’ve seen the other side of the world. Living in first world cities (London & Singapore) and being in the emerging tech environment, sometimes it is easy to forget the other side of the world. Insane as it sounds, but just 1.5h away from Singapore, and you’re in a whole new world. The way of living, the local life, the environment, the infrastructure, whatever is deemed as “normal” is just so different. I can’t believe that I complain about the slow internet speed (looking at you, BT’s wifi) or the lack of cashless payment mechanisms (looking at you, hawker centers in Singapore). Remembering how other people are living, it brings me back to reality; we are far from a fair and equal world.
Nothing is absolute. Everything is relative. It is through comparison with others that we find out where we stand. In our little bubble of startups, emerging technology and first world cities, we are constantly comparing and improving, trying to be better with each updates. But just a simple basic technology means so much to the other side of the world — like a formatted excel sheet to input calculations and data. (Decreasing marginal return, am I right?)
If only there are better ways to level out the playing field, so that innovation is not just kept within our little bubble of startups, emerging technology and first world cities.
Most Heartbreaking Sight
The most heartbreaking sight is the state of the hospital of the village area. I’m absolutely ignorant, for I’ve only seen these metal “beds” in war museums. It actually did not occur to me that other places are still using them in the daily lives. There is no mattress or layer between the metal bar and the patient. Some patients have a cloth over the metal bars, but that is it. Little children, as young as 3 years old, are lying on these “beds” with IV drips attached to them. Their mothers are there, fanning them, feeding them and trying to make them feel comfortable. At night, the mothers tie a mosquito net over the “beds”, as they both squeeze together and fall asleep.
And that is one of the better hospitals in the village area.
Second Most Heartbreaking Sight
This lady was blind in both eyes and abandoned by her family. She was sitting at the corner of the shop near the river when we saw her. Her family didn’t care about her at all. They didn’t even want to come along with her to the hospital. They did not speak to her, and I reckon she has not spoken to anyone in years.
She was blind in both eyes, extremely skinny and in poor health due to lack of care. The doctor said that with her high blood pressure and high blood sugar, she would have been in the ER in Nepal by now.
After the surgery in both her eyes, she could see again. She was smiling for the first time. She was speaking for the first time, in a very long time. She even danced with other patients.
However, I must admit that Cambodia has improved so much, economically. The first time I was in Cambodia was 8 years ago. I remember empty dry dusty roads, with very little buildings and no trees. Today, the roads are relatively clean and nicely paved (much better than the roads in Belgium, if you know what I mean). Phnom Penh is lined up up with malls and fancy brands. Outside of Phnom Penh, the villages’ homes are nicely designed with mom and pop shops everywhere.
Greatest Takeaway Last Week
The greatest takeaway is actually a dilemma — to what extent should we show the villagers what the world has to offer, so that it motivates them to be something greater? But where is the tipping point, where it becomes an “impossible dream”, where you show them too much and it is just not possible to get there? It becomes more of a bane than a boon.
(Don’t get me started on how we are giving the kids sweets, because we simply assume that they are kids and they love sweets. The psychological impact/anchor we unconsciously create for these kids is something we should be responsible about.)
These people are actually happy. They are happy with the simple things in life — meals, job as a farmer, a family, simple home, having proper sight so they can see again and continue with their jobs. Who are we to play god, to tell them that they should be happier, and will be happier if they moved to the city and work at a call center or cashier at a fast food restaurant?
With everything, it’s just a trade-off to be made.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is just to make life easier for them by giving them the basics (eyesight, skills, education opportunities) and then allow them to choose the future for themselves.