My heart sinks in Australia whenever I get a cold call at home, or accosted in the streets by charities looking for donations. Ditto when friends write saying they have a cause and would I donate? It is not possible to help everyone and the phenomenon of donor fatigue is something I experience on a regular basis, particularly from Australia, where I can quickly feel disconnected from the need that I see here in Cambodia. From within Cambodia it is quite the opposite, you could almost say I’m plagued by donor impulse here! But I identify well with donor fatigue and I understand what my friends are experiencing when they see yet another appeal coming from my general vicinity. This is what makes me loathe what I call The Excruciating Fundraiser.
On that note, I hope anyone reading this understands that my sharing this story is not to make you feel obliged, pressured or judged in any way. Read it as a story of interest. And if you are inclined to donate, then do; if not, no problem. If you are inclined to share it with others then do; if not, no problem. It really is interesting to know this story though, and if you click on the link you can watch a very touching video that was filmed before the family received the help that has since seen some improvement in their situation.
This project involves a single mother of 4 who broke her ankle >2 years ago now. I talked about her in Bongs and Tycoons. She walked on the bone for over a year because she couldn’t afford to seek medical care. This obviously did further damage. She finally sought care at a South Korean charity hospital, but has to pay to get there and for any medicines and tests – it’s just the doctor’s consultation that is free. The surgery is much cheaper than it otherwise would be, but has (and will) still cost her. These small things have put strain on her financially and at one point, for an extended period her 13yo son was out of school in order to walk the streets pushing a cart selling clams and banana fritters. Since getting to know this family my perception of the many similar street vendors in Phnom Penh has changed. Where once they were mysterious, appealing and sometimes funny, now they are all these things while I also contemplate on what led to them purchasing a steel cart to wander the streets through traffic as a way to earn money. Even more so when the seller is elderly, very young or visibly disabled, which is often the case. No doubt every one of them has a story worth sharing.
In May this year Mum was climbing the rickety ladder from the door of her elevated wooden shack to the ground (about 2 metres high) when she slipped through the gaps to the ground, breaking the steel fixer pin holding her bone together! So now she is walking around with a broken pin in her bone. When I visit her, I physically tremble climbing up and down this ladder with it’s rotting rungs.
We got involved when a friend shared the video with me and asked if I could find her because a wealthy businesswoman wanted to offer her some money. I met her and took the family out for a meal (pizza – if you watch the video or read the earlier post you’ll know why). Then I met her again with the businesswoman’s daughter and nephew, who gave her an extremely generous donation which is going towards the expenses of her ongoing medical consultations. She has to have repeat surgery in September and meanwhile needs to travel to consultations weekly, pay for medicines, tests and transport etc.
The doctors have told her the only hope for a reasonable recovery is if she rests her leg. With no back up welfare system here, she has no choice but to work – except for the fact that she has since had this help, meaning that at the moment she can rest (but she has a 2yo daughter, so can’t stay off her leg the whole time). So we are trying to help by raising enough money to get her into a ground level home that is not dangerous (her elevated shack is very dangerous, the ceiling leaks during rainfall, some of the ladder rungs are rotting, the floor slopes and feels soft underfoot in places), plus have a carer for the baby during school hours when her sons cannot help her, plus replace the income she cannot earn.
We will need a minimum of $4,000 to make this possible for her, for about six months post-surgery. So far we’re only a quarter of the way there.
See the link created by my MSF colleague / housemate and watch the video if you are interested in just one of the many stories that surround me, provoking my constant battle with Donor Impulse.