For six years, Dr Joseph Ong Yew Jin, a Singaporean physician, has spent his summer holidays in Poipet with his students, helping locals. With local nuns, he provides free medical check-ups and funds for Cambodian students. He does it because “this is in part of my faith” and the “relations I developed over the years.” Many “are willing to give if given a chance."
Rome (AsiaNews) – Dr Joseph Ong Yew Jin, a Singaporean doctor specialising in palliative care, in the past few years has spent his holidays in rural Cambodia bringing drugs, performing check-ups, and teaching basic hygiene.
"I started in 2010,” he told AsiaNews, “with a group of medical students from the National University of Singapore. Every summer we go to Poipet, near the north-western border with Thailand, where we work with the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus."
The sisters run a kindergarten and take care of the parish. "When we go there,” the doctor explained, “we make the rounds of the villages accompanied by three locals. We stay for two days in each place.
“First, we check residents’ health with equipment that we bring from Singapore or rent from Cambodian clinics. If we find someone ill, we bring the patient to the nearest hospital for further checks."
Over the years, cooperation with Cambodian institutions has grown stronger and stronger. "A bond has developed between my students and the University of Phnom Penh, whose students volunteer to work with us."
The second thing doctors do is provide scholarships to local kids, from high school to university, and not only for medical school.
"The first group of students whom we helped graduated this year and two of them studied nursing,” Dr Ong said.
“Now they might come back to Poipet to work with the sisters. Our hope is that, once they graduate, the kids will offer their skills to the community."
The idea behind the initiative is not the doctor’s. "In 2009, I joined ACTS, ‘A Call to Share’, a group founded by Dr John Lee and his wife.
“Both are Singaporeans and have collaborated with the Salesians of Phnom Penh and had contacts with Fr Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzález, prefect of Battambang. Going with them I met the priest, and through him I met the Sisters of Poipet."
When he is asked why he is doing this, he answers, "I think the reason I continue to do this is in part my faith, which taught me the importance of helping others, and in part due to relations I developed over the years.
“Even many of the students who come with me – only one of whom is Catholic – continue to come thanks to the friendships they formed with Cambodians. Coming with me, they find something meaningful to do. "
Joseph became a Catholic during his university years. "My faith spurs me to continue this work, encourages me to understand what the people we serve need, and how much they are willing to give if given a chance."
Since he has been coming to Cambodia, the doctor noticed its great "educational emergency. Many young people want to change things but they do not have the opportunity.
“In Singapore missionary schools have made a difference in the development of the country, whilst in Cambodia the Khmer Rouge created a great vacuum in knowledge. I see it in the medical field, where they lack the basics. If we look at the long term, the domain in which the Church can do the most is education."