He met with PIME missionaries and suffered from a serious illness. After time in Vietnam for treatment, he travelled to Italy where he discovered art and decided to move. For three years he studied at the Brera Academy and is about to graduate. " I want to go back to Cambodia, to share with friends all that I have learnt."
Rome (AsiaNews) – Ranon Phal, 25, came from Cambodia to Italy to treat a serious illness and then to study art, his great passion. AsiaNews met in Rome, where he is on a holiday.
Ranon was born in Battambang in 1991, capital of the province in western Cambodia. "I have been Christian since childhood,” he said, “because I was baptised when I was one year old. My mom was not Christian at the time but she was baptised at the age of 56. Instead, my dad and my grandparents were Christians."
Ranon has the blood of the two peoples, those of Cambodia and Vietnam, who are not on good terms in Cambodia. "My grandmother is Vietnamese but my grandfather is Cambodian. It is true that there is historical enmity between the two peoples, but not everyone hates each other. Sometimes they get married as well. "
After a few years, he moved with his parents, brother and sister, to Banteay Meanchey province, to the northeast, near the border with Thailand. "We lived near the parish of Fr Olivier Schmitthaeusler, who is now the bishop of Phnom Penh. At that time, my mom cooked for him whilst my father took care of the parish and the garden."
In 2003, "my parents found work in another province for New Humanity, the NGO created by PIME. My father worked there until 2007, when he died because of a serious illness."
“During my Christian education, two PIME missionaries who worked where I lived were important: first Fr Mariano Ponzinibbi and then Fr Franco Legnani.
In 2009 Ranon’s life changes suddenly. "I discovered I had leukaemia. At that time, I received the help of Paola Maiocchi, a PIME lay missionary working at the St Elizabeth Centre in Phnom Penh. She took me to a hospital for blood tests and so they discovered that I was ill."
The situation was complicated by the fact that "in Cambodia there are no hospitals that can cure leukaemia,” the young man said. “For this reason, I had to move to Vietnam, to Ho Chi Minh City."
Ranon spent 48 days in hospital undergoing chemotherapy. "At that point, however, the doctor treating me said that he could not help me further and that I could die. He advised me to look for another hospital. "
Paola Maiocchi thought to ask Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital about the possibility of treating the young man. A few months later a positive reply came.
"I came to Italy and stayed there for eight months,” Ranon said. “After a few weeks I started to feel better and some friends took me around the city, to visit the museums."
For him it was the encounter with an unknown culture and art that rekindled in him a passion that he had since he was a child. "Ever since I was nine I really love drawing and painting, but I taught myself, without ever going to school, making some painting to give to friends."
Back in Cambodia, Ranon finished high school. Eventually he asked Paola whether it was possible to move to Italy to study art.
Set on having this experience, "I moved to Phnom Penh for a year, where I found part-time jobs whilst waiting for my papers. It was not easy because there is no Italian embassy in Cambodia, and I had to go to Thailand to complete all the forms.”
In 2013, he finally left. "I have been studying for three years at Milan’s Brera Academy,” he said, “and I am about to graduate in painting."
During this period Ranon produced about 60 works. "I have already done some exhibit with my work along with other painters, both in Milan and in other cities. In March of this year I managed to bring some paintings to Cambodia to organise an exhibition."
Ranon’s favourite subjects are buildings and urban landscapes. "At the beginning, I was painting with watercolour, but now I prefer the felt pen in black and white. I also do portraits in pencil ".
After graduating, Ranon wants to return to Cambodia. "I want to work there and I cannot wait to see my friends and my mom. Perhaps I’ll study some more, but not painting. I want to specialize in animated graphics, even if I will never give up my passion."
"Now my health is much improved,” noted. “It is almost seven years and I don’t suffer any more. Leukaemia is not likely to come back. I'd like to open a gallery in Cambodia and share my experience and my technique with the other young people."