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The miracle baby

The DO Cambodia group of volunteers dispersed for the weekend with some of the girls scurrying off to experience the majestic Ankor Wat in the north of the country, while the rest stayed in Phnom Penh to do a cookery course (have I mentioned that the food here is yummy).

I hopped on a bus and headed off to the coastal town of Sihanoukville for the weekend on my own. Living with seven hyperactive women for the past week can be exhausting, so I decided to head off to clear my head a bit. I can never work out how seven women can have seven conversations running simultaneously and partake in all of them at the same time... :)

Sihanoukville is a stunning beach resort but sunbathing was off the cards because the monsoon thunderstorms were particularly aggressive over the weekend. I wasn't disappointed because the rains provided me with some amazing photo ops.

To business: LRDE was a-buzz with activity this morning and on arrival I could tell we wouldn't be able to have our planned lessons because today was distribution day and sacks of rice and other basics were being given out to the sponsored children.

This means that the family is provided for, which, in turn, means that children would not be required to beg or sell flowers or trinkets at street corners and traffic lights for food. It means they can go to school instead.

It's a little heartbreaking to see the non-sponsored children look on, but LRDE has a policy to never turn a child away and does provide food for these too through other sponsorships.

Besides, my team is always armed with little toys which we give out with abandon to those going home without a sackful of rice. It's so easy to earn a smile from a child here.

There is a little extra excitement in the air today because representatives from Waltzing Around Cambodia (WAC) are visiting from Italy. WAC is the brainchild of a group of parents from Torino who had adopted from Cambodia and resolved to help the community in any way they can.

They organise functions in Italy to raise awareness and funds pretty much the same way we do in Malta except that, whereas the money WAC raise goes towards the support of LDRE as an organisation, we focus on sponsorships of individual children.

During a very productive meeting Mr Chhiv expressed his profound gratitude to both organisations explaining that without our support the restaurant would suffer.

WAC and DO exchanged views and ideas and discussed ways that we can perhaps work together on certain projects. They explained that they are committed to building a cultural bridge between the Cambodia and Italy. I think I wouldn't be exaggerating if I say that, by the end of the meeting, that the bridge now also includes Malta through DO Cambodia.

After a hearty lunch we hurried on to Sfoda for our afternoon session before the monsoon hit and we only just made it 'cause, Lordy, it came down hard today to the extent that I could barely hear myself teach over the hammering of the rain on the corrugated roof - but that didn't stop us giving high energy and dynamic Helen O'Grady Academy lesson with gusto. And a grand old time was had by all.

Today was also the day where I finally got formally introduced to the latest addition to the Sfoda family - someone whose story is a particularly poignant one: In early July some people out on the promenade spotted a plastic bag under a park bench that appeared to be moving.

Further inspection revealed a new born baby boy, umbilical chord still attached, and struggling for breath. The authorities were immediately informed and the baby even made it to Khmer television in the hope that somebody would come forward but, of course, nobody did.

The authorities brought the newborn to Sfoda and, what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement soon became a permanent one. This of course is a good thing for the baby (many babies do not make it and Sothy who works at Sfoda recounts how she had seen the tiny body of an abandoned newborn floating down the river), it does however present a new set of problems for the orphanage who were not financially prepared for a new born.

Everybody who's ever had a baby knows the expense and the round-the-clock attention a young baby demands, however we can confirm that we have found a sponsor for this little fighter which is a great relief for Sfoda.

Medical check-ups were carried out and there was a long period of time when they weren't sure the baby would make it. His umbilical was infected and he was suffering from severe dehydration and multiple skin abscesses due to neglected condition.

Today, through the dedication and persistence of the orphanage, the miracle baby seems to be thriving: he is eating like a little horse and his development is on track and being closely monitored. Our own resident pediatrician, Dr Alexandra, has confirmed that the baby boy is doing well.

The baby, we have just been told, has been named DO!

Alan Montanaro

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