Unexpected juxtapositions – My first week at Friends

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A story from Allan, Phnom Penh.

At one stage I counted ten young street children injecting heroin in the alley around me. Monks slowly walked by on their morning alms. For a Westerner it was an unexpected juxtaposition.

We had arrived on motos some time earlier carrying small sporting bags packed with clean syringes, sterilised water, medical supplies, condoms, empty oil bottles, BBQ tongs and food packages soaked in sugar. One by one, children appeared from flimsy doorways and alley corners. Some brought cane baskets filled with used syringes. Others arrived empty handed, took medical kits, food and began injecting not even a metre away.

Some of the young children spoke with the outreach teams about their problems or asked for specific medical treatment. Others it seemed wanted to share a joke and have a conversation with somebody outside of their world. The children, always polite and courteous, seemed fully aware the outreach team was there to help. Several children took rubber gloves, empty oil containers, BBQ tongs and begin clearing used syringes.

That afternoon I was exposed to many confronting images but none more horrific than the sight of a young male who had two seriously infected wounds on his left calf. Each wound was roughly sixty millimetres in diameter and five deep. The areas surrounding the wound were black and when the outreach doctor squirted a clear solution it sent each wound bubbling in a pool of white foam. The doc applied mercurochrome and bandaged the wounds. The patient did not flinch. I asked the doc if the patient should be in hospital to which he replied in broken English “He not want to go. We do best we can and come back next week to apply more treatment.”

As bleak and hopeless as the situation seemed, it wasn’t.

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