Finger Wagging

Siem Reap, not quite ready to release me from her grasp is bequeathing the gift of one more night. I extended my stay and very quickly discovered myself free to attend a performance. But not just any performance. It’s Beatocello.

There is a hospital next to the hotel. For days I have wheeled past the men, women and children — lots of children, queuing on the sidewalks in front. They stand under overhanging tree branches quietly watching life on the street pass by. Every day they wait. It’s my new friend Boran, that finally clues me in. “It is a free hospital,” he tells me. Surely his English must be confused. “Free?”

Throughout town, poked into grass, posted on buildings, light posts and storefronts, even in the hotel lobby, are signs for Beatocello. Held every Saturday night, it’s gratis performance that includes J.S. Bach cello works and remarkably enlightening commentary. Beatocello is Dr. Beat Richner, founder and director of the Kantha Bopha hospitals. And yes, treatment for allCambodians is completely free of charge.

Dr. Richner began working in Cambodia with a small pediatric hospital in the 1970’s. When the Khmer Rouge invaded he was driven out and forced to retreat to his homeland, Switzerland. Years later, at the request of King Norodom Sihanouk, Dr. Richner once again left behind the comforts of Zurich and returned to Cambodia. In 1992 Kantha Bopha I officially opened its doors. The hospital was a tremendous success and in 1996 Kantha Bopha II was christened, followed by the Siem Reap, Jayavarman VII in 1998.

Humble beginnings employing 16 foreigners and 68 Cambodians has now grown into a revered operation supporting 2,100 Cambodians and only 2 permanent foreigners. The impact has been astounding. Against the odds of governmental corruption and a fractured healthcare system, the Kantha Bopha[1] hospitals have treated over 9 Million outpatients, 900,000 inpatients and performed 90,000 surgical operations. Over 550,000 children that would have otherwise died, did not.

This is indeed remarkable but it has come at a price. That price has been Dr. Richner’s life. Of the hospitals’ funding, 90% is derived from private donation. And this is why Beatocello plays. Every Saturday. Over 600 performances. For twenty years, Dr. Beat Richner has been sustaining the financial burden of these institutions. He is the primary reason people donate.

He’s frustrated. He’s angry. And he’s tired.

Beatocello’s performance is moving and his style direct. The good doctor has no qualms about prodding his bow into the BIG white global healthcare elephant stomping through the operating room. He stabs at the debilitating issues of international bureaucracy, inappropriate fund distribution and grossly ineffective methodology. But this was not at the heart of Dr. Richner’s impassioned plea. The most critical dilemma focuses on the rights of poor people to quality medical treatment.

Several years ago I began exploring global issues, mostly because I was painfully ignorant.  I’d spent a great deal of time working in Northwest Europe but didn’t comprehend what was taking place in the poorer countries of the world. The more questions I raised, the more answers I received. The more answers I received, the more disturbed I became. Years later I’m still sorting through the quagmire of information. There are however, some glaring certainties[2].

  • In 2010 there were approximately 8.8 Million cases of tuberculosis.
    • An estimated 1.1 Million died.
  • In 2010 there were approximately 216 Million malaria cases.
    • An estimated 655,000 died.
  • There are 3-5 Million cholera cases every year
    • 100,000 – 120,000 result in death.
  • An estimated 500,000 require hospitalization for Dengue Fever every year.
    • 12,500 die. Mostly children.
  • Worldwide recorded cases of SARS were slightly over 8,000.
    • Less than 1,000 have died.

Which issue ignited a global media frenzy?

Every year 7.6 Million children under the age of five die; 19,178 children, every day.

What constitutes a crisis? What is preventing the international community from garnering the necessary awareness to solve these problems? Why haven’t we experienced worldwide rallying to stop this senseless loss of life? I still have more questions than answers.

My passport is issued by a country that in less than two years, has generated $1,317,000,000 for a presidential race[2]. The 2012 Congressional elections have amassed $1,853,106,280.

Admittedly, I find the finer nuances of politics confusing. But there is nothing perplexing about how $3.1 Billion could be spent. I’ll give you a hint — in the twenty years Kantha Bopha has been healing the Cambodian population, operating costs have totaled $400 Million (with only 5% paying administrative costs).

Twenty years; $400 Million. One election season; $3.1 Billion.

There are obvious systemic flaws if chaotic campaign financing is not only conceivable but legally permissible. It would be easy to wag a finger and say, “Bad, bad, politicians.” But we as individuals are ultimately responsible. We are responsible for electing the governmental officials that make decisions on our behalf. We are also responsible for policing them when they step out of line.

Fixing these problems involves the removal of root causes, of which there are many. One of the most basic is the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution that recognizes corporations with the same legal rights as living, breathing human beings. The most immediately prevalent issue however, is the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission  which essentially provides corporations with a green light to procure politicians. A corporation can legally now spend limitless amounts of cash toward funding the candidates that best support its idealistic value of maximizing profitability.

The rules that govern our lives are not static. If we shake the planet loud enough we can affect change. Until then, we get what we get. As I’ve come to understand, democracy, much like life, is not a passive process. I’m not saying that fixing the United States’ political problems will mend global healthcare. But until the political lunacy that is gobbling up billions of dollars and bombarding our psyches with polluted promises of prosperity stop, nothing will improve. This much is certain. The planet will continue to hemorrhage cash. Beatocello will continue to play. And over 19,000 children will continue die — every day.

Live. Learn. Most importantly: Lend your voice.

We have an opportunity to be part of the solution. Each one of us as individuals has personal power and a choice.

~ by Christine Fowle

[1] Source: Kantha Bopha Website
[2] Source: World Health Organization.
[3] Source: FEC.
[1] Source: World Health Organization.