Every Saturday evening in Siem Reap, Dr Beat Richner gives a free ‘cello performance at Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital. Beatocello, to call him by the name he once performed on Swiss TV, built the hospital to provide free medical care to the children of the villages of northern Cambodia and provide a place for the children’s mothers to stay during their time there. In an impoverished country like Cambodia, free care essentially means the difference between living and dying for these children. Tuberculosis, malaria and dengue fever are illnesses which can be fatal in this part of the world. Kantha Bopha has reduced the number of fatalities from these causes by hundreds of thousands over the years of its operation. The doctors and staff are all Cambodian, and Dr Richner pays them a wage far in excess of a wage paid elsewhere in Cambodia. In return he expects care for the children of the same quality as they would receive in a western hospital.
Dr Beat talks a lot, making throwaway lines about the Chinese ambassador’s complaints. But he pulls no punches in criticising the government, world health authorities, foreign countries and drug companies because he believes they devalue the lives of Cambodian children by expecting them to have fewer dollars spent per patient on their care than they would rightfully receive in a western hospital. He performed several pieces on his ‘cello and showed a film that related the story of the visit of the Swiss President to the hospital in 2006. At the evening’s end, he requests that we all donate money as we leave, as this is the hospital’s major source of funding. Who can argue with that request. The man is a saint.
On Sunday we spent a bit of lazy time in the pool and had one final trip into town in the evening to check out the new night market. We didn’t stay too long. We’d seen plenty of markets over the past three weeks and saw nothing new in this one. On Monday morning our tuk tuk drivers took us out to the airport. There was plenty of construction going on there and it was chaos around the check-in counters. We boarded a plane bound for our final stop of the tour – Phuket via Bangkok.