An Italian Doctor in Cambodia: Professor Emidio Grisostomi Travaglini in Battambang in 1999

 

In a very interesting book, Professor Emidio Grisostomi Travaglini, uncle of my friend Marquess Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini, is telling about his experience in Cambodia in Battambang during 1999 Christmas. Here are his words in Italian and I will try to provide a suitable English translation.

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Christmas 1999 in Cambodia:

On 28th March 2000, Professor Grisostomi is telling us about his experience in Cambodia:

“During last Christmas holiday (1999), instead of my usual mountain holiday, I accepted the proposal for a collaboration with a hospital in Battambang in Cambodia, set up by Emergency NGO which is taking care of war victims, especially the ones wounded by landmines.

Still nowadays, years after the end of the war, the consequences of the conflicts are vivid and devastating. More than 90% of the victims are civilians: women and elders, young and adults are wounded while cultivating their fields or feeding their cattle, but above all, children, tragically caught while playing or helping their parents.

The estimation is that at least 2000 victims per month are wounded by the 100000000 landmines disseminated  and hidden in the Cambodian territory. The landmine clearance, a longterm work, which requests the precison of high-trained professionals, is slow, expensive and extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, in many zones, one must bitterly admit that this landmine clearance is done by poor ignorant people, who are obliged for the necessity of life to sacrifice one leg, one arm, etc… thus eliminating some of these criminal landmines.

To help these persons, it has become necessary to open specialised medical centres with physicians, nurses, physiotherapists and orthopedic technicians. Volunteers were called to support these initiatives.

 

 

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Once again, Italy has shown attention and sensitiveness in organising and sending help through Emergency NGO,  which already intervened in Rwanda during the genocide periods, in Kurdistan, Afghanistan and Cambodia, where I took part personally as orthopedic surgeon at Battambang hospital, in a structure which bears the name of the journalist Ilaria Alpi. The patients of this hospital were mainly victims of landmines which were located on the border with Thailand. Only in 1999, more than 1000 of them were killed and tens of thousands of persons remained handicaped and unable to earn a living for themselves hence.

Moreover, the situation was dramatically worsened by nature and the frequent rains, which on the one hand, make possible the necessary rice growing but on the other hand, when they are very heavy, the water is transporting and hiding again and again landmines so to transform ricefields in very dangerous insidious traps for local people, who are already suffering disease such as malaria, polio, aids, etc…  The country is also suffering the lack of medical staff and structures, totally cancelled by the Khmer Rouge and the only ones available are very expensive and normal people cannot afford to be cured in the right way.

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In these circumstances, the  Battambang Hospital is significantly reducing the number of landmine victims and at the same time, giving a very good preparation to surgeons and medical staff to be at the right level to deal with problematics such as poliomyelite disease ill persons, quite numerous, due to the cancellation of the vaccinations during the dictatorship of the Khmer Rouge and people presenting congenital malformations as well as bone infections. The director was Italian Lady Anna Marchesi, ICRC, who was very experienced in post-conflict situations.

The medical team at my arrival was made of one general surgeon from Kurdistan, one anesthesist from Mongolia, one physiotherapist from England, two Italian nurses and one French. We were also helped by three young Cambodian doctors and numerous local nurses. It is with them that I spent my Christmas holiday. I would have wanted to transmit all my medical skills and experience in those (unfortunately) too short days. I must admit that the hospital, although it was particularly furnished for emergency situations, allows me to cure different unexpected cases, which I already had to face in Africa for instance. Especially when the patients arrived with wounds at faces, arms and above all, eyes.

 

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For me, as well, although I was used to emergency operations, to see children and young people wounded in many parts of their bodies remains an indescriptible shock. The last patient I operated before coming back to Italy, a young farmer who lost both hands and was almost blind, has been lika a desperate SOS to stop all these tragedies.

I experienced once again that being useful is always satisfactory, even more for the one who gives that for the one who receives. I would like, however, to recall and acknowledge the collaboration, which is unfortunately always insufficient, of various organisations, such as the Italian Rotary Club, who helped the Battambang Hospital to refurbish one surgery room; or the funding given by the Swiss Rotary Club of an ICRC prothesis centre.

To conclude, I cannot not invite you to support with determination and concrete facts the campaign for the cancellation of landmines, who reduce military and above all, innocent civilians to the state of human ruins. Emergency has demonstrated to be an efficient initiative, little but significant instrument; this is why it deserves unconditional support to be more known and helped to grow up.”

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A very special person: His Excellency Bishop Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez

Addressing the assembly at the end of the Holy Mass, under the protecting look of Father Kiké
Addressing the assembly at the end of the Holy Mass, under the protective look of “Father Kiké” in Battambang, 22nd February 2015 Photo credits: Ramon Figaredo Rubio

I already had the opportunity to introduce you His Excellency Bishop Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez, that we all call “Father Kiké” in Cambodia.

https://ravisisowath.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/his-majesty-king-norodom-sihamoni-conceded-a-royal-audience-to-his-excellency-enrique-figaredo-alvargonzalez-bishop-of-battambang/

Having heard so much about Him, I was looking forward to my first encounter with such a special character and that was done on November 26th, 2014. It was a rainy evening and Father Kiké asked me to wait for him at the Jesuit Curia in Rome, near the Vatican. From there, I went with the Jesuit Bishop to my favourite « trattoria » Da Luigi, where we discussed a lot about Cambodia, the Catholic Church in Battambang, etc…

With His Excellency Bishop Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez at Roman "Trattoria da Luigi"  26 November 2014
My very first encounter with His Excellency Bishop Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez at “Trattoria da Luigi” in Rome, 26th November 2014

Very impressed by such a charismatic and interesting personality, I promised to myself that, as soon as it would be possible, I will pay a visit to Father Kiké in Battambang. It is my Dear Friends, Olivier and Edwige Michon, who gave me this lucky opportunity last February. We have decided for a long time that we would go back to Cambodia to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary and they found it a very good idea to go to Battambang as well.

The Holy Virgin at the entrance of the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang
The Holy Virgin at the entrance of the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang

On February 21st and 22nd of this year, we were greeted in Battambang with a big hot storm, which made us appreciate even more the swimming-pool of Princess Marie’s La Villa, a charming little boutique hotel in the heart of Battambang historical centre, directed by the very kind and dynamic Corinne Darquey. We invited Father Kiké to have dinner there with us and he invited us to participate the day after in the Sunday Holy Mass celebration at the Apostolic Prefecture in Battambang, better known by locals as « Pet Yeay Chi » or Nuns’Hospital. We were absolutely enchanted all along that very Sunday : first, the Mass which was a very particular moment of joy and faith, with all these young girls and boys, singing and smiling at us. Then, we met Father Totet Banaynal, the vicar who is from the Philippines and speaks perfect Khmer, as well as Father Kiké by the way…

Father Totet proclaiming the Holy Gospel
Father Totet proclaiming the Holy Gospel

Afterwards, both of them made us visit their little world, with the school rooms for the handicaped girls and boys they are taking care of. Some of them arrived to be introduced to us and we had many opportunities to talk and laugh altogether. We even went to disturb the young fellows who are living there and attending the university of Battambang, the proof that Jesuits, even in Cambodia, are always careful to maintain the high study level for their pupils.

With Olivier Michon and Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini, together with Father Kiké and some of his numerous pupils....
With Olivier Michon and Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini, together with Father Kiké and some of his numerous pupils….

After these very moving moments shared with all the young ones, Father Kiké led us to have lunch in a very specific place, The Lonely Tree Café. What a surprise to be welcomed in Battambang with a delicious fresh Gazpacho, followed by tasty Tortillas and the whole, drinking such a good red wine from Rioja !!! Of course, we also had the Cambodian traditional « Loc Lac » Beef. Before going back to Siem Reap, Father Kiké gave each of us a magnificent cotton krama and made us promise to come back as soon as possible.

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Needless to say that each of us was deeply touched by all we saw and felt on that blessed Sunday, but above all, love and kindness were always present. We actually lived what Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux has taught us :

“Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.”

“Where charity and love are, God is there.”

Thank you Father Kiké for all you did, do and will do for all of us, your Cambodian children, brothers and sisters !

If you want to know more about the Lonely Tree Café, here is their website : http://thelonelytreecafe.com/Lonely_Tree_Cafe/Home.html

His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni conceded a Royal Audience to His Excellency Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez, Bishop of Battambang on 23 July 2014

On Wednesday 23rd July 2014, His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni granted the honour of a Royal Audience to His Excellency Enrique (Kiké) Figaredo Alvargonzalez, Bishop of Battambang. On that occasion, my Father, Prince Sisowath Samyl Monipong and His Excellency Son Soubert did accompany the Bishop and the Jesuit School’s delegation to His Majesty the King.

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