Surgeries Give Villagers Hope

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After her eye surgery, Hor Gneth, now is able to continue planting pepper trees. Wildlife Alliance

CHHAY ARENG, Koh Kong (Wildlife Alliance) – For years, Hor Gneth, 48, suffered from poor vision and she did not know why or had any knowledge of a cure. As a farmer, her blurred vision limited her activities on her farm land and prevented her from earning enough money to support her family.  
In August, her life was set to change for the better. Conservation organization Wildlife Alliance, the NGO working to improve the livelihoods in Chhay Areng through development of community based ecotourism, invited her to Phnom Penh to get cataract surgery along with 109 other farmers suffering from various health problems. The operations were performed by the Cambodia International Sight Association (CISA). Her eyesight was restored and she was able to see again.  
“I couldn’t see clearly anymore and this affected my daily farming activities. After my operation, I was surprised that I could see again,” Ms. Gneth recalls. “As I was given a second chance to see again, I was inspired to plant more than 70 pepper trees.”
Before the operation, Ms. Gneth had no ambition to farm and said it was useless “if you can’t see.” Now, she has hope because she expects to triple her income from the sales of the peppercorns.
Cake baker Sok Saren, 53, received two operations – one in her eyes and the other in her mouth. Her eyes developed cataracts and she suffered major tooth problems.
Ms. Saren had to significantly cut down on the sales of her baked cakes to school children.
“I now bake twice as many cakes and earn twice as much from their sales,” said Ms. Saren. With no more toothache, the mother of four is now able to work longer hours in the field. This year, her rice harvest was four times higher than last year – with 44 bags compared with last year’s 10 bags.
Ms. Saren was so happy with her medical treatments that she shared her experiences with her neighbors and encouraged them to get their eyes and teeth checked regularly.
“The neighbors revealed that they regret not going to Phnom Penh for treatment due to the long journey,” added Ms. Saren.
Chhay Areng is a valley isolated and situated deep in the forest of the Southern Cardamom Mountains. Getting to this predominantly farming community of 850 people involves a three-hour rough road journey by motorbike from Thmar Bang.
Another Wildlife Alliance beneficiary, village chief Seang Veasna, 46, of Chhay Areng’s Chrork Russey village, explained that a dental operation made him a better husband and more effective representative of his constituents.
“After the doctor extracted four teeth and treated my cavities, the pain is now gone,” said Mr. Veasna.
“Before the surgery, the sounds of the rooster crowing or dogs barking would shoot pain straight to my head.”
He admitted that during the years when he suffered from intense pain in his mouth, he regularly argued with his wife and neighbors. Since the surgery, he said, he stopped fighting, has gained weight and can now focus much better on his animal husbandry.
Poor farmers like Ms. Gneth, Ms. Saren and Mr. Veasna were among the 109 Wildlife Alliance beneficiaries who received medical treatment from a team of volunteer eye doctors and dentists from CISA in August.
CISA surgeries were performed free in Phnom Penh’s Khmer-Russian-Soviet Hospital.
“CISA’s medical mission was a gratifying experience for us all at Wildlife Alliance. It was a great joy to see so many lives changed for the better,” said Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO of Wildlife Alliance.
“The better lives of the local people lend more strength to our livelihood improvement efforts and our conservation of natural resources.”

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