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  • I was recently in Cambodia, visiting with my family and a close family friend. Alison, the friend i went with, works for a organization called the Peter C. Alderman Foundation. The foundation establishes mental health clinics in areas of previous mass violence or terrorism, helping heal the psychological wounds of their victims. Coincidently, the foundation has a clinic in Siem Riep, which is where we were staying. Cambodia is still recovering from the horrors inflicted upon them by the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot in the 1970's. A good percentage of the population remains below the poverty line, with 40% of the country's children malnourished. Most of the money families have goes towards daily necessities, of which mental health is not one. Because there are so many other problems that must be attended to, mental health in countries like Cambodia is often not only ignored, but misunderstood.

    Alison asked me to accompany her on her visit to the clinic, and document the experience. I gladly went along, but i was unprepared for what i would encounter. I saw and heard many things, but for now, i will focus on one story that was especially memorable.

    A woman had just arrived at the hospital, and was taken to the psychiatric ward. In order to protect her from herself, she had to be restrained. The woman was dressed in an off-fitting shirt and a makeshift skirt made of oddly patterned cloth- probably all she could find or afford. She looked to be in some kind of distress, her eyes puffy and red from crying, her face wet. Through all of her pain, one could still see what a beautiful woman she was. Her son (pictured above) sat by her side, silent, holding her hand.

    The doctor began to interview the woman. A translator stood beside us, listening intently to what she and the doctor were saying, and then reporting it back to us in english.

    The woman had just attempted to commit suicide. She teared up and held her face when she said those words. The doctor asked her why, and then she told her story.

    She had been married to a man for 12 years, with which she had her two children. Her mother had HIV, which progressed into full blown AIDS. Taking care of her mother was taking up a significant amount of her time, leaving little time to take care of him. This did not please her husband. He then gave her an ultimatum: take care of your mother or take care of me. She was faced with the hardest decision of her life, and chose to take care of her mother. Her husband then divorced her and took all the money they had. Once fairly wealthy by Cambodian standards, she was now without money or job, and forced to take care of her sick mother and her two children. The pressure and struggles became too much for her to handle and thus tried to end her life. Her son found her and he got enough people from the village to bring her to the hospital. She was chocking back tears as she told her story, and to be honest, so was i.

    Although that is all i know of the woman, her story is one that remains vivid in my memory.
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