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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Psychologists bring long-buried mental disorders into the daylight

Written by Mom Kunthear

While many older Cambodians still think they are being tormented by evil spirits, younger people are turning to modern psychology to recognise stress and other mental illnesses

THE life of 53-year-old Sok Mach fell apart when her marriage failed and she lost one of her children to a preventable childhood disease.

When she began suffering incapacitating pains, she assumed she was simply delirious with grief. Unable to get her life back on track, she never suspected that she was suffering from an undiagnosed psychological disorder.

"I got headaches, I couldn't sleep and I would vomit almost every day," she recalled. "I went to see a doctor and they diagnosed me with psych-asthenia. Only then did things start to get better."

Psychasthenia, a disorder characterised by phobias, obsessions, compulsions and excessive anxiety, is one of many psychological conditions, recognition of which is now emerging into the Cambodian mainstream. But for a country so accustomed to physical hardship, it is often difficult for individuals and even health institutions to recognise, let alone diagnose, internal pain.

It is not only Cambodia's turbulent history that has left a legacy of mental illness; the social and economic problems people encounter today are increasingly taking their toll. Psychologists in Phnom Penh say they are now dealing not with long-buried psychological trauma but with contemporary psychosocial problems.

Social stress
"We encounter a whole range of conditions in the younger generations: depression, anxiety and stress, along with psychological problems stemming from sexual abuse, dealing with HIV/Aids or other forms of severe trauma," says Dr Ken Wilcox of the Wilcox & Associates psychology practice in Phnom Penh. "Psychologists in Cambodia are not dealing [primarily] with postwar trauma anymore," Wilcox said.

Chea Sophal, like Sok Mach, now realises that stress-related social problems were what triggered the onset of his mental illness. The Kandal province native says that he felt he "was a crazy person" for years before he got up the courage to ask for help.


we can reduce mental health problems in the future if we address serious issues in society now.


"For many years I didn't want other people around me.... I couldn't control myself," he said.

Wilcox said unwillingness to seek professional help, coupled with a complete lack of knowledge about mental illness, was a common problem.

"Among the local population, we do see many instances of psychological trauma related to family and cultural issues." he says. "Often people do not know how to cope with the stresses they suffer, and so they internalize it. They have no outlet," Wilcox said.

Yim Sobotra, deputy head of psychiatry at the Cambodian-Russian Friendship Hospital, acknowledged that the predominance of family-related stress means that women were most afflicted by mental illness.

"Most patients are women, twice as many as men, because women get pressure from both their families and society," he said.

His hospital, which deals with up to 200 patients seeking regular consultations and medical prescriptions, receives around 20 new patients a day. But he worries that there are still many people who are unable to recognise the seriousness of their psychological problems.

"Some of them don't know they have a mental illness. They think they have been hurt by black magic or that they have done something to offend their guardian spirit."

Traditional ways of dealing with different kinds of psychological disorders are still common among the older generation of Cambodians, who are more likely to seek help from herbalists or faith healers.

But Wilcox is more optimistic for the future.

"While older generations will suppress their problems or look to spiritual means to cope, the younger generations are starting to seek help when they are concerned about their psychological health," he said.

"We now see many 15- to 25-year-olds who see that there are options available to them."

Kang San, program coordinator of the Trans-Cultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO), also expressed the importance of a back-to-basics approach to psychological health.

"I think we can reduce the number of instances of mental health problems among Cambodian people in the future if we can address some of the more serious issues in society right now," he said.

For Kang San, poverty alleviation and education will play an integral part.

"If we can reduce the poverty of those with psychological problems, provide them with a job and educate them about their illness, I hope we can effectively treat them." .

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Cambodian orphans arrive in Honolulu for cultural exchange, performances

30 children ages 14 to 20 to participate in cultural exchanges with other Oahu students during two–week visit, culminating with fundraising performance at Mamiya Theatre

A group of talented children from the Future Light Orphanage of Worldmate (FLOW) just outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, arrive on Oahu September 3.

Many will meet their email foster parents for the first time, and also participate in cultural exchanges with other Hawaii students of the same age from Kaimuki High School, Le Jardin, Mid-Pacific Institute, and Punahou School.

The visit culminates with an extravagant fundraising performance at 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 13 at Mamiya Theatre. Tax-deductible tickets are available for $50 and $75 ($100 tickets are sold out) by calling 545-3676, and include a wine and pupu reception with the performers from 5 – 6:30 p.m. at the theatre plaza.

"For most of the children, this trip is the first time they've ever left Cambodia," said Oahu resident Rob Hail, Founder and President of Email Foster Parents International, a non-profit that pairs caring adults as foster parents with orphaned and vulnerable children in developing countries. "What's even more exciting is that on September 3, many foster parents will get to meet their foster kids for the first time, after years of frequent email correspondence. It's sure to be a chicken-skin moment."

FLOW was founded in 1992 by Phaly Nuon, a dynamic humanitarian who survived Cambodia's infamous "Killing Fields" of the Khmer Rouge. The orphanage cares for 250 children ages 5 to 22, and an additional 100 children who come from neighboring villages for lunch and English classes. All kids attend public school or university as a condition of residency, and the older children participate in caring for their younger "siblings". As part of the curriculum and to provide a link to their rich and ancient heritage, children are given the opportunity to learn Khmer classical dance and music.

Over the years, the program has grown and expanded, and in 2006 twelve students were invited to perform in Tokyo, Japan. Following this, Hail, and fellow Rotarians Nancy Walden and Hal Darcey decided they would figure out a way to get the children to Hawaii, despite many hurdles with visas and cost.

"We wanted to bring the kids here, so they could meet their foster parents in the flesh, as well as experience our American and Hawaiian cultures while sharing their own culture with us," said Nancy Walden, Cambodian Children Cultural Tour Chair. "These extremely talented teens represent a positive future for Cambodia. To see them perform is an inspiring and delightful experience."

Email Foster Parents International (EFPI) blossomed out of a program founded in 2001 by Rob Hail. The program become a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2008. Today EFPI provides a bridge between orphaned and vulnerable children in developing countries with responsible, caring international donors who offer them support and encouragement primarily through email correspondence and through a $360 annual donation that provides care for the foster child. Foster parents can travel to FLOW to meet their children, getting to know them while staying in FLOW's guesthouse.

"The relationship you build with your foster child is powerful," said Hal Darcey, EFPI Vice President. "Your encouraging words are so important; they soon start calling you mom or dad. If you have children, they begin to see them as brothers or sisters. It really touches your heart to know you are making such a difference in their lives."

Those who are interested in becoming a foster email parent should visit or call 545-3676.
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Ericsson deploys rural, solar-powered site with satellite transmission in Cambodia for Star-Cell

For the first time, Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) has combined a GSM base station and satellite transmission in a solar-powered site, enabling Cambodian mobile operator Star-Cell to expand its network coverage in remote areas. The solution offers affordable communications for all and is based on Ericsson’s energy-optimized main-remote base-station.

The satellite transmission feature provides affordable mobile-network coverage in remote areas where other transmission solutions are unavailable. This is vital for bridging the digital divide, as about 80 percent of the Cambodian population lives outside the main urban centers.

The GSM main-remote solution has a lower environmental impact than standard base stations, consuming up to 50 percent less energy, and helps lower total cost of ownership by reducing operating costs.

Star-Cell has selected Ericsson’s solution to expand network coverage and introduce EDGE-based applications to enable mobile health and educational services for rural communities.

Denis Ryabtsev, Chief Marketing Officer at Star-Cell, says: "Ericsson’s solar-powered site with satellite transmission will make a significant difference. It enables us to expand cost-effectively into rural areas, connect people for the first time, and offer affordable services that improve quality of life"

Hans Karlsson, President of Ericsson Thailand and Indochina, says: "This marks an important milestone and we are proud to implement the first solar-powered solution in Cambodia. This move highlights our technical leadership, our commitment to sustainable development, and our vision of providing communication for all"

This deployment follows a series of initiatives from Ericsson to optimize the energy efficiency of mobile networks by creating solutions that reduce environmental impacts and lower operator costs. These initiatives include: BTS Power Savings features that put a network in stand-by mode during off-peak hours and saves up to 15 percent of the network access energy consumption; the innovative site concept Ericsson Tower Tube; biofuel-powered telecom sites; a hybrid solution using diesel and batteries that cuts network operating costs by up to 50 percent; and the Solar Village Charger, co-developed with Sony Ericsson. Ericsson delivered its first solar-powered sites in 2000 to Maroc Telecom in Morocco, and has so far provided more than 200 sites in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Americas.
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Bank of India applies to open in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH: Cambodia has welcomed an initial application by the Bank of India to open in Phnom Penh, local media reported on Tuesday.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper quoted Finance Ministry director of investment Chan Sothy as saying the nationalised Indian bank, which has a presence in all the major trade centres of the world, applied to open a branch in April.

The paper quoted Sothy as saying he and Finance Minister Keat Chhon met outgoing Indian ambassador Aloke Sen Friday and "welcomed the Bank of India to open a branch in Cambodia".

The officials discussed various ways of increasing Indian investments in Cambodia, the report said. It quoted banking officials as saying the Bank of India application was still being processed and therefore no concrete date could be set.

The two nations have close historic ties and Cambodia has been keen to foster closer economic ties with India as investment from other powerhouse Asian economies such as China and South Korea continues to grow.
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