Wednesday, January 6, 2016
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It’s a win-win situation for all concerned. Long-time IofC Canada member Peter Heyes from Sturgeon County, Alberta, is a man of vision, but he also has ways of turning that vision into action. He spends eight months a year in South East Asia. Over the years Peter-- together with partners and friends in Canada and Cambodia-- has developed a program bringing on average 20 to 25 Canadian dental workers a year who have treated thousands of poor village adults and children in that South East Asian country. Here, in Peter’s own words is the story of this initiative which began ten years ago at a dinner in Canada, and continues to flourish with the dedicated support of Cambodian IofC youth.

Alberta’s Peter Heyes reflects on ten years of dental care program in Cambodia

Eleven years ago I took care of four Canadians visiting Cambodia. One of the women was afraid of going out into the city so each day I'd meet with the group and take them around. When I got back to Canada they thanked me for my help and asked if I'd join them for dinner. One of the husbands was a dentist and during our meal he asked if I'd heard of Kindness in Action, which is an Alberta based dental NGO that mainly did volunteer work in Central America. I started to think how wonderful it would be to bring them to Cambodia to help the poor. I asked if they would go to Cambodia; he didn't travel with KIA but suggested I write to them. I sent them a proposal, was short listed and finally was told a group would come the following year. It was only at that moment that I realized that I would have to all the logistical work, dealing with the government, finding patients etc. In my innocence I'd imagined that they would simply go to Cambodia, do the work and then head back home without any help from me!

Support from Son Soubert, Advisor to King of Cambodia

I spoke to my young IofC friends, who were all in university at the time, and they decided it would be a good thing for us to do. I also contacted His Excellency Son Soubert, -- High Privy Counsellor to the King of Cambodia--who runs two children's homes. He thought it would be a good idea to host the dentists so that the 150 or so children he cares for could have dental treatment. We also contacted other agencies such as "Buddhism for Development" and the Roman Catholic church to see if we could treat the people in the rural areas where they worked.

Spin-offs from dental care program benefit communities

Over the years we've developed a program bringing on average 20 to 25 dental workers from Canada who have treated thousands of poor village people and children in care. Many of these people don't have the money to even travel into the town to have treatment. The young IofC people who help me are now mostly married with families but believe that this is an important program and are happy to do the work. These young people have done all ten programs and so they are able to do them without my help. I'm the Western person who worries about everything while they are the ones who just tell me to calm down and that all will be well.

Apart from the help given to around 10,000 vulnerable people, my IofC friends receive a salary and the volunteers donate money to various projects. One group purchased a rice grinding machine for the mother of one of the IofC friends. She now provides about 50 children in Soubert's home in Battambang with one noodle meal a week for an entire year with funds I obtain from the dental workers and a Canadian friend. This is a huge treat as all the other meals are rice. Others have "adopted" children and paid for their education.

We use the same tour guide each year and he receives donations for the work he does in his poor village. So far he has built a huge pond to catch rainwater as the village has no river or ground water, installed computers in classrooms and has recently built a simple two-roomed school for local children. Money he receives from the dentists, and other tourists, pays the teachers' salaries. Members of one group returned to Canada and, with local help, raised enough money putting on a fashion show and a university dinner to provide enough funding to build a classroom and guesthouse complex at the children's home so that volunteers could come and help in a variety of ways.

Canadians learn about work of local volunteers

Wherever we go we try to inspire the volunteers by introducing them to local people who are caring for society. In Battambang we have our meals at a home where the family care for young boys who have dropped out of school and are living on the street. The father teaches them carpentry and wood carving and they often sell their creations to the Canadian volunteers. We work with organizations from different religious backgrounds so that the Canadians learn about different faiths and cultures.

Hope for future

It's hard work but I've gained so much from it. I'm very close to the friends who help me and they care for me in so many different ways. They have gained confidence working with foreigners and this has helped them with their jobs and also with the work they do with IofC in Cambodia. Group leaders from Canada have told me that my Cambodian friends are the best volunteers they have worked with on dental programs, and that our program is the best organized. It's good to know that we are appreciated. I have no idea how long I'll be able to continue bringing the volunteers to Cambodia but I'm hoping the local people will be able to carry on with the work.

Peter Heyes, Phnom Penh, Cambodia