In honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
An Immigrants Story
Please allow me to share my perspective on why I chose to travel across the world to provide medical care to people I do not know. But first, I am going to provide you with a little background on me.
I was born in Cambodia in 1973. When I was 2 years old, the Khmer Rouge party took over Cambodia
and we were forced into a life of deliberate abject misery. The Khmer Rouge Party rejected free market and capitalism. Their ideology was to create a classless rural agrarian society; thus, we were forced out of our home in the city to live in rural huts and work long hours in the rice fields. Many Cambodians were executed because they were educated, “look” educated, or resisted this ideology, including my Father who was a soldier for the Cambodian army. The reign of terror lasted from 1975 to 1979, with approximately one fifth of the Khmer population decimated through execution, forced labor, disease, or famine. When the Vietnamese took over Cambodia in 1979, the Khmer Rouge retreated to the jungle and abandoned the people they had vowed to protect. Many Cambodians, including my family, left Cambodia and became refugees. We travelled to Thailand and began our immigration process to the United States, as this was the country that we were accepted to. We were sponsored by an organization in the US and arrived as immigrants in December 1981. I was 8 years old.
Life in the US
Initially, life in the US was not easy. There were some challenging times in which we as a family questioned why we were here: we did not speak English, we did not have an education, we did not understand the culture, nor were we familiar with the concept of snow and changing seasons. We were dependent on each other and the government. But life got better because strangers brought us food, clothing, furniture, and other necessities for us to survive. They took us shopping, enrolled us in school, and helped my Mother and Aunt find jobs. With their helping hand, we began to assimilate to the American way of life. We extended our gratitude by getting off public assistance and helped new immigrants get on their feet.
In school, I had many mentors to guide me through my curriculum and went on to college. I am the first person to graduate from college in my family. I knew that I wanted to help sick people get better, as I had witnessed many sick people during the Khmer Rouge regime that did not receive any medical care. They suffered and die without compassion or dignity. I became interested in healthcare and went on to serve in many different roles including being an RRT, an RN, a CRNA, and an NP. I view each day as a blessing and an honor that I am able to help patients go through their surgery or medical crisis. My role as a provider is more than just a job. Its about the impact that I have on a patient’s life and their loved ones. Providing care and caring for patients creates a sense of community that needs to be shared with all mankind.
I Have a Dream
In a speech that was delivered to an audience in Montgomery, Alabama over 40 years ago, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a steward of his community stated “Every person must decide at some point whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment: Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “what are you doing for others?” Dr. King believes that in order for us to impact the lives of others, it cannot be just through our words, it has to be in our actions. It is about choosing to serve oneself versus something greater.
When I read Dr. King’s speech, I was internally troubled as well as motivated to help my fellow brothers and sisters. I believe that I have provide the best care that I can give for my patients. I have all the right equipment and necessary medications at work to help me do just that. I often thought if I had done enough. Dr. King’s speech keeps me motivated to be a servant for my brothers and sisters and my community each and every day.
One day, I was informed that 4 of my colleagues (2 CRNAs and 2 OR RNS) were going on a mission trip to Cambodia. I always wanted to go on a mission trip but was afraid because I would be out of my comfort zone. I would not have the latest and greatest equipment, medications, supplies, etc. What would I do? What if I get sick? I barely speak the language.
Dr. King’s speech reminds me that my life is not just about me. It’s about the second chance that I was given, surviving in a country where the odds of survival were so slim. It’s about giving back and paying forward. Its about showing my utmost gratitude to my Mother who have fought so hard for my survival. It’s about showing love for my adopted country that have provided with every opportunity to better myself. It’s about providing and sharing knowledge and clinical skills to impact the lives of those who did not have the chance to escape to the land of opportunity.
It’s no longer about wanting to do a mission trip than it is about going on a mission trip to help those who are unable to afford medical care in their own country. Their healthcare system is not the same as ours. While our healthcare system is not perfect, we are able to receive care when needed. There are public health care institutions and clinics. For those who reside in emerging countries, care is rendered if one has money to pay for it upfront. Unfortunately, our mission trip may be the only way that they will receive much needed healthcare services.
I can honestly say that I am looking forward to going on this mission trip. I was encouraged by my colleagues and spouse to be a part of something greater than what I have experienced and will continue to experience here in my local community. Thank you, Dr. King for helping me see my life’s mission. I hope that this message will help you find your “mission” in life.