It was our last evening in Phnom Penh, Cambodia after a successful mission to New Hope Orphan Home at Kompong Chnnang. Debra, my wife, Darren Ho and his daughter, Claryl, from Singapore walked about ten blocks from our hotel to the riverfront on the Mekong River. This area caters to the tourist with many restaurants selling western cuisines and souvenir shops. It was crowded with tourists, tuk tuks, street children and beggars. It is a extremely busy area.
After our week eating the local foods in the rural area where the New Hope Home was located, we were ready for a more westernized menu. We made our way down the street warding off the street vendors, beggar children and tuk tuk drivers as they solicited us. We stopped at one of the many restaurants to view the menu displayed outside. The restaurant was inviting with a clean atmosphere lined with comfortable wicker chairs. Some westerners were lounging in the wicker chairs that extended out to the sidewalk. While viewing the menu displayed just outside the restaurant, Darren noticed a young boy lying under the table. He was dressed in only a dirty pair of shorts, curled up as if he was trying to keep warm. We were shocked! I bent down to him to make sure he was breathing. He was but I felt his body and he was burning with fever.
I was not sure what to do? The westerner sitting near him said, “Leave him alone, he will be alright.” Street children are plentiful here but I never saw one sleeping in such a place. Normally they gather on corners together or in back alleys. Bewildered we went inside to order our meal. I could not focus on reading the menu and ordering a meal when this child lay on the cold cement just about ten feet away from us!
My wife encouraged me to go check the boy again. I made my way to him and bent to talk to him. The two western men with European accents told me to leave him alone. “He has a mother! So let him alone… He’ll be fine!” I was shocked at their indifference and annoyance. I awoke the boy and asked if he could speak English. He acknowledge that he could. His nose was running profusely and he had a deep cough. I asked if he was hungry and he said that he was. Darren and I left Debra and Claryl at the restaurant to try to find a convenience store or a bakery to buy some food. We walked the side streets and found a 7-Eleven type store. We bought some bread and chocolate milk for the boy.
When we got back to the restaurant the boy was gone. Debra informed us that the waitress shooed him away and as he was crying with a runny nose looking so fragile and scarred. Darren proceeded to the street of try to find him and found him leaning against a bench. There were some young girls there and we asked them about the boy. They told us that he had a heart problem and that his mother was around but did not care for him. He took the food and we prayed for him and then made our way back to the restaurant.
I was torn as what to do next. The boy needed medical treatment but my fear was that if we tried to get him to a hospital or doctor, we could been seen as trying to kidnap him or traffic him. As our meal was being served I prayed and asked Jesus to please help me to help the boy? It was hard to have an appetite but I tried to enjoy the meal with our team. Minutes earlier a teen street vendor had approached to sell us post cards and books. We did not buy but because the boy knew English well we asked him what to do about the sick street boy. He said he knew the boy and that his mother did not care about him. He told us we could take him to a free hospital or to a pharmacy. The pharmacy option sounded good to me so I asked if he knew where the boy now was. The boy offered to take us to him but said he needed money for school uniforms. He escorted Darren and me to the next corner where there were many beggars sleeping on pieces of cardboard.
There the boy was lying on the cardboard hugging his mother. The vendor boy pointed to a big green cross just two shops down from where we standing. It was a pharmacy! I aroused the mom and boy and told them to follow us as we went into the pharmacy. I was not sure how the people in the pharmacy would react to the mom and child as they were filthy and the boy was so sick. No one objected and we made our way back to the pharmacist at the back of the store. He looked at the boy and heard him cough and knew immediately what to prescribe. He looked at the mom and boy with great compassion and then told me the boy needed anti-biotic and something for his cough. We told him whatever it took, just give him what he needed. The cost was just under six US dollars. The pharmacist instructed the mom as to how to administer the medicine. I warned her not to sell the medicine and she sincerely agreed. Worry and concern for her son was evident in her face. The young street vendor remained with us and when we said goodbye him and gave him a small amount of money for his help.
We proceeded outside. A dirty little three year old child ran to the mom and boy. Obviously, this was another one of her children. The mom also appeared to be pregnant. Darren and I laid hands on them and prayed God’s healing, provision, and protection upon them. We departed as they made their way back to their home on the cardboard bed on the street.
I felt like we did all we could have under the circumstances. I wish deep in my heart that I could have been able to take him to a hospital. I wish I could have gotten the mom into a homeless shelter, but in Phnom Penh there is no such thing that I am aware of. I sat back in the restaurant to eat my meal and fought the tears. If I released them I would have made a scene and sobbed uncontrollably.
I am still overwhelmed by the situation but I am determined to let it motivate me to do something for the street kids of Phnom Penh. I am going to research who and what is helping these children. I am going to get involved even if it means giving a month or so of my time to go back to help.