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Journey to Cambodia 2017: Hope in the Slums

About a quarter of the world’s population live in slums, officially defined as “squalid and overcrowded districts inhabited by people in poverty.”  In the region we recently visited in Cambodia, that definition was sadly accurate. We passed shanty after shanty built right along the railroad track, metal shacks thrown up by squatters, with dangling electrical lines I was told were illegally and dangerously spliced in.

We came to this slum in Cambodia in search of a baby girl whom Leng, our LWB Cambodia Director, first met at a border crossing between Cambodia and Thailand. Leng had been extremely concerned to see how malnourished and sick the little girl was.

Hope, as we came to call her, was born with a large myelomeningocele, a neurological birth defect where a portion of the spinal cord protrudes through the back to form a bulging sac. With this special need, hydrocephalus (a build up of fluid on the brain) is common, and Hope clearly has this condition as well.

From the moment I first saw little Hope’s photos, I began praying there would be a way we could help her. Before our team arrived in Cambodia, we sent her to two different hospitals and learned that the doctors there felt nothing could be done. One of our greatest worries was just how weak and malnourished baby Hope appeared to be, as her hands and feet were as tiny as a doll’s.

I was anxious to meet Hope for myself. As we walked down the railway track searching for her home, we were surrounded by crowds of children who came out to greet the foreigners.  Each child was more beautiful than the next, and I was struck once again by just how YOUNG the population of Cambodia is.

Finally we reached baby Hope’s small home, and I went inside worried I would find a tiny unresponsive infant. Instead, I met an 8-month-old little girl with engaging, bright eyes who immediately reached out for our director’s hand.

Oh my goodness — is she tiny! When I held her in my arms, I felt that she couldn’t weigh more than 8-9 pounds despite her mom insisting she had been born back in November. Hope made perfect eye contact, looking intently at me as if quite perplexed by the blonde woman staring back. All of us were struck by her soulful gaze.

Cindy Wu, one of our directors in China, was with me on this trip, and right away she began making calls to see if baby Hope could be treated at Children’s Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai, home to some of the best neurosurgeons in the world.  We knew it would be her best chance at getting urgent but excellent care.

We quickly learned that baby Hope’s birth had not been registered, which is common for children from the slums. Without a formal birth certificate, we would never be able to obtain a passport for Hope to leave the country, so Leng began making calls as well to figure out the next legal steps.

I’m so happy to let you know that Hope now has a birth certificate, and within the next week or so she and her parents will have passports.  Leng had to travel with them to Cambodia’s capital to apply, but everything appears to be on track.

Children’s Hospital of Fudan University estimates that Hope’s surgery will cost $10,000. In addition, we must help Hope’s parents with airline and travel expenses as these costs are truly beyond their means.

We believe that saving the life of this beautiful baby girl is worth every penny, and we ask you to please consider joining us by donating to her care.

The world is better with Hope — don’t you agree? Let’s come together to help this beautiful little girl, who has somehow held on for so long, finally get the medical care she so desperately needs.

~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer

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