I am a father of three TASSEL volunteers: Miyu, Jennifer, and Ryuichi. I would like to briefly introduce to you how our family became deeply involved in TASSEL.
For two years now, I have been participating in volunteer activities as part of TASSEL in a rural town in Cambodia, six hours away from the capital, Phnom Penh. It all started with my eldest daughter, Miyu, as an extracurricular activity at Seisen International School. At that time, I could not have even imagined that her first summer service trip to Cambodia with ten other students, a chance received through a lucky name-draw, would impact our family life. I had assumed that coming from Tokyo, she would not be able to endure staying in a foreign, rural area for an extended period of time. However, the moment she came home, she assertively stated, “I am definitely going back next year.” Since then, Miyu had participated every year for three more summers, including summer vacation after high school and leading the school chapter. When Jennifer, who was invited by Miyu, joined TASSEL her freshman year of high school, I thought surely she would have a different response seeing as she has such a different personality from Miyu. Much to my surprise, Jennifer also told us after her first trip, “ I wanna go back to Cambodia every year to do something for TASSEL.” She has now been to Cambodia for four consecutive summers, working hard for Cambodia and TASSEL. And now, Ryuichi, our youngest son in my family, joined last year and will take over his sisters’ legacies. He is exploring potential ways, different from his sisters, to get involved with TASSEL.
I was always curious as to what was fueling my daughters’ passions to serve and be involved in TASSEL. It was only after I visited myself after Mr. Joji (Joji-san) asked me to join, did I understand. Every time Joji-san would stop by my house, he would ask me, “Please join us. Many children in Cambodia are growing up without their parents’ love. In the era of the Khmer Rouge genocide, many family members were killed and the foundation of family relationships collapsed. Though many children who survived under the genocide now live as parents, they are unable to raise children with the love and care they need. Furthermore, parents think of their children as a member of labor. Even just witnessing mothers and fathers going on the service trips with their children will be impactful for the Cambodians. I would like many Cambodian children to understand the meaning of parental love. So please, come join and visit us.”
As I couldn’t teach English to children and teachers, I went around with Joji-san to visit village members. For each village visited, we used an entire classroom to set up a basic primary care check-up station. TASSEL English teachers helped to translate. During the clinic days, I was surprised to see some more serious conditions that were being overlooked: I came across a young mother with a heart murmur, and a man in his fifties, almost at end-stage, with jaundice and positive Hepatitis C virus. Patients in critical conditions like these would normally be referred to hospitals, but with such limited hospital space (mostly prioritized for HIV patients) patients with other serious conditions are treated poorly. Around Battambang, there is one private hospital. However, for the village people, the private hospital’s five dollars medical fee is too expensive. Another option would be to drive six hours to a general hospital in Phnom Penh with TASSEL teachers. Even if patients have the chance to see a doctor, a critical-condition patient like the young mother with the heart murmur would have to pay 10,000 dollars to have a surgical procedure done by a medical volunteer team from France or USA. In any case, it is not easy to access the necessary medical care. From the viewpoint of medical professionals who work with contemporary, modern medical resources in Tokyo, I was devastated with the stark differences. I was introduced to a world completely different from what I was accustomed to, and I was brought back to the roots of why I studied and practiced medicine in the first place.
After joining TASSEL, I began to understand where my daughters’ passion stemmed from. Through TASSEL, my daughters have now gone to study public health, having big hopes to create change and improve healthcare around the world. Ever since I witnessed the unfortunate situations myself, I have been asking myself what I could do more for TASSEL as well as for my family.