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Hugs, love and feelings of hope

Memories of Cambodian trip make Pihl determined to return
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO, Nancy Pihl shows a Cambodian child how to take care of her teeth. In just two weeks Phil assisted dentists from Medical Teams International with over 300 orphaned children.

Nancy Pihl of Lake Oswego is full of warm/sad memories of her medical mission trip with children in Cambodia last October.

Especially of her last day at the country orphanage where she assisted dentists in serving hundreds of children.

Pihl had grown especially close to a 14-year-old girl named Somneang, who called her 'Mama.' Pihl was having a difficult time telling the girl she would not see her the next day because she was taking an airplane home.

'I put arms and made like I was flying,' Pihl said. 'That's when it sunk in. She burst into tears and started hugging me and sobbing.'

Pihl, herself, has been crying ever since. Memories of the Cambodian children quickly trigger tears in her eyes.

'To be honest, they made a significant difference in my life,' said Pihl. 'They put a lot more meaning and purpose into my life.

'There is not a day that goes by where I don't wake up or go to sleep without thinking about them.'

Pihl's Cambodian journey started with just a blurb in her church bulletin (she is a member of Southlake Church) about dentists from Medical Teams International needing assistance for their trip.

Pihl is a realtor with Windermere Realty Group in Lake Oswego, and she has no medical background. But that was no barrier.

'I have a hard time sitting home watching,' she said. 'I thought, 'I may not have medical training but I can help.' I could do any kind of grunt work. Or just give them hugs, love and feelings of hope.'

Just how much her hugs and help were needed was realized when truckload after truckload of children kept arriving at the orphanage where the dental medical team was stationed.

'There would be as many as 35 people on a little, tiny pickup truck,' Pihl said. 'This would go on for four or five hours. There would be a different group and more and more children every day. It was non-stop. We worked so hard that we never took a break.'

Pihl would guide the children in and out of the dentist's chair, and then show them how to brush and floss their teeth.

'They would come in and wait for hours to see the dentist and not make a peep,' Pihl said. 'If you gave them a balloon or a pipecleaner it was like you gave them a laptop computer. They would put their hands together and bow down. They were the most wonderfully happy, loving and appreciative children.

'They didn't speak much English. But hugs and smiles are pretty universal.'

Pihl asked herself how much she wanted to give, and the answer was more, more, more. Using donations from family and friends, Pihl was able to buy a roof to put over a building at the orphanage. Also mosquito nets, rice mats, and blankets.

'For each kid it was like Christmas,' Pihl said. 'They were squealing and jumping up and down.'

Christmas, of course, was very much on Pihl's mind last week. She had to decide what 'Mama' was going to give her Cambodian kids for Christmas - something for each individual child and worker in the orphanage.

That did not stop the tears from coming. Still, gifts will have to do for now.

'But I will see them again some day,' promises Pihl.