In August, the US Marines were at my health center doing great work. On September 9th, 16 US Air Force airmen and 20 Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) security personnel and engineers arrived and began work side by side at my health center. Operation Pacific Angel is a recurring joint/combined humanitarian assistance mission sponsored by US Pacific Command (USPACOM) designed to bring humanitarian civic assistance and civil-military operations to areas in need in the Pacific region, like Cambodia. The project builds medical and civil assistance capacity. I was made aware of this opportunity through the US Embassy. I spoke with my health center staff about it, and after identifying some relevant needs, I wrote a proposal to the US embassy. My health center was chosen along with two others to be a part of this Pacific Angel project.
One of the bigger goals of this operation is to visibly express the Unites States’ commitment to Cambodia and demonstrate their continuing resolve to support international disaster and humanitarian relief efforts in the Asian region. At the local level, however the impact to my community is enormous. It brought a $35,000 upgrade to the infrastructure of my health center, improving resources and capacity to the community far beyond anything that they or I could have done on our own.
On August 5th, members of the Pacific Angel Team toured my site to look at the proposed work. The scope of the work was large enough that and bids were collected to have some of the work done by a private Cambodian contractor.
On August 29th, the private Cambodian contract crew arrived and work began. As all this unfolded I felt a lot like a contractor. My years of construction experience came into play. I was constantly running around acting a liason between the health center, contractors, vendors, and military personnel.
Upgrades to the facility included refurbishing 4 bathrooms (above), pumping 10 septic tanks, building a new larger septic tank, replacing sewer lines, and installing new handwashing sinks in several of the buildings.
The electrical service to the facility, which previously was a maze of twisted spliced wires, was entirely replaced. New poles were set with new service wire to each building meaning if a slice or wire broke it now would no longer cut electricity to the whole facility beyond the break.. Tying all the buildings into the generator was now possible providing ensured power during the frequent black outs the community suffers.
All the buildings received attention form the electricians. Light fixtures, switches, and fans were repaired or replaced. Two old air conditioners that were installed by another foreign aid project, but never worked were repaired.
It was great to see the US and Cambodian forces working side by side learning from each other.
Airmen Lance Speed (above) worked with an interpreter to diagram and teach a Cambodian counterpart a more efficient way to wire light fixtures that uses less of the costly wire.
Lance’s Air National Guard unit from Idaho sponsors Cambodia, and this is his second operation in the country.
Even the local kids (left with lance) were learning and lending a hand to help out.
The patient rooms god a good cleaning when ceramic tile was added to the walls. The tile provides a much more sanitary environment that stays cleaner for the patients.
The kitchen shack was totally rebuilt providing a more sanitary place to prepare patient meals and storage.
My health center delivers about 30 babies a month. Disposal of the afterbirth is the responsibility of the family. Until now that meant they either took it home in a plastic bag or buried it behind the delivery building. This project brought the construction of a new bio-hazard incinerator where patients can now burn the afterbirth.
This is our new patient shower (right). This was another project started by an NGO that was never finished. Our inpatients typically have family stay with them for overnight stays. If they bathe while here, they have to bathe outside next to the well and drinking water (right below). Now they at least have the option to use an actual shower.
Honestly I am not sure how well this will go over as most of the patients have never seen or used a shower. But at least they now have the option.
Above is a new red roof awning that was built over the walkway connecting two of the buildings. I call area the IV garden because of the numerous patients who often rest at the picnic tables here with their IVs. This was something the staff particularly wanted built.
It provides shelter from the sun on the hot days and from the monsoon rains this time of year for the staff when transporting patients and supplies back and forth between the buildings. It also made a great place to stage the patients while their rooms were being tiled. (above before and after look at the IV Garden)
The oldest building received the most work. This building received a new roof, celing, windows, electrical, and was totally gutted reconfiguring the rooms.
A new infectious disease ward room for tuberculosis patients, staff rooms, and a cleaning supplies room were created. Before the health center occupied this building, it was a theater. So this remodel has not only updated the building, it has improved the efficiency of its use and patient flow dramatically.
Because the bulk of this Pacific Angels operation’s work was done at my health center, it was also chosen as the site for the final closing ceremony. The ceremony afforded an opportunity for the health center staff, and US and Cambodian forces to hang out a bit and enjoy a catered lunch togehter.
Speeches were made, certificates and gifts of appreciation were exchanged. Generals, Majors, community dignitaries, and the Cambodian and US press were on hand. You can read two of the stories written about this operation here on the Pacific Air Forces web site and here in the Cambodian Herald
Beyond the obvious physical upgrades to the facility, there is and indirect benefit to my community equally as important. The work done here has been very visible. The community is talking about it, and I think it has added a lot of credibility to the health center. I think it has increased confidence and trust in the government health care system, which is lacking generally, and will encourage people to seek care at the health center. It has also made the staff think a little bit more about their efficiency. With the reconfiguration of the one buildings in particular, the staff has improved the efficiency of the way they utilize space, and work with patients.
For me, this was a very rewarding project. I am happy I was able to facilitate it all happening. As with the Marines in August, I think I was valuable in making sure the needs of both the health center and the military personnel were met. Additionally, I think I was able to facilitate a greater cultural understanding on each side between the Americans and Cambodians.
No, I did not join the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, but the Military Police whom I got to know over the weeks while they stayed guarding the health center really wanted to see me in their uniform. It could use a little letting out.