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Local women wowed by Tigard nonprofit's work in Cambodia

Medical Teams International supports health care in developing world.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNIE KUBIAK - From left, Linda Andrews, Kristi York, Annie Kubiak, Kathy Herman and Diana Burke traveled last month to Cambodia. The five women, who reside in the Portland area, were there to represent Medical Teams International and see what the Tigard-based nonprofit is doing in the country.Ten days in Southeast Asia left quite an impression on a group of five women from the Portland area last month.

The group, led by Lake Oswego resident Diana Burke, visited Cambodia to see the work that Tigard-based nonprofit Medical Teams International has been doing as part of its program “Healthy Women. Healthy World.” The American visitors had the chance to meet with Cambodian volunteers and Medical Teams staff working in both urban and rural parts of the country, which is one of the poorest in the region.

Annie Kubiak, who lives in Beaverton, has worked with Medical Teams in some capacity, both as a staff member and as a volunteer, since 2008. Tears came to her eyes as she talked about the disparity between the relative wealth and comfort that most Americans enjoy and the poverty in which many people in the rest of the world live.

“It's so unbelievable that we have so much and somebody can have so little, and that some people can have to struggle every day,” Kubiak said. “Every time I see it, my heart aches. … There was a lady that came up and she just kissed me. Just appreciative. And it makes me want to do more and more and more and more and more.”

Kubiak said she wanted to see what Medical Teams is accomplishing through its women's program and share her experiences back home.

Burke, who works at Medical Teams as its philanthropy advisor, said the nonprofit group avoids taking a top-down approach to addressing problems in the developing world.

“Anything we do all over the world first starts with a lot of looking into what goes on in a community. What is the culture? What are the practices? And many times identifying with leaders of those areas … 'What is it you need? What is it that's lacking?'” she said. “And we definitely go in as partners.”

Burke, Kubiak and other members of the group went to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and also traveled to other parts of the country, including the impoverished Prey Veng Province in southeastern Cambodia and Oddar Meanchay Province in the northwest, as well as Siem Reap and the Angkor temples. They recounted meeting village residents who were being trained as emergency responders, visiting a health center where pregnant women are being encouraged to give birth, and touring a hospital where Medical Teams staff have been training workers.

“Many times as you get out away from these cities, then the '911 system,' the EMS system … doesn't exist or (is) rudimentary at best,” Burke said.

For both Burke and Kubiak, this was their second trip abroad for Medical Teams and their first to Southeast Asia.

But Medical Teams' history is intertwined with that of Cambodia. The group originated with a team of two dozen volunteers that traveled to Thailand in 1979 to aid refugees from war torn Cambodia, then known as the People's Republic of Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge, a communist insurgency that seized control of the country in the mid-1970s, marched well over a million Cambodians into what became known as “Killing Fields” in the countryside and executed them during its four-year rule. Thousands more fled the country, especially after neighboring Vietnam invaded and established its own puppet government.

Burke and Kubiak said they met Cambodians working with Medical Teams on their trip who trace their history with the group back to the very beginning, when they were living in refugee camps on the Thai border.

Medical Teams' work is largely supported by donations from individuals and charitable foundations. Some governments around the world provide the group with funding, Burke said, but Cambodia is not one of them.

“It's a real blessing. It's really an honor to work with these dear people in our world who are poor and don't even have the basics of health care,” Burke said.

She said health care and nutrition can make a “foundational” difference for people.

“And it doesn't take much,” Kubiak added. “You know, people think, 'Well, I don't really have much.' But, you know, when you look at so many people that live on less than $2 a day … you don't have to be what we consider wealthy to help people and make a difference.”

In addition to supporting women's health and nutrition through programs like “Healthy Women. Healthy World,” Medical Teams also provides other forms of health care assistance in more than 30 other countries. Programs include dental clinics in the Pacific Northwest, as well as medical aid for Syrian refugees in countries like Greece and Lebanon, and health care training and supplies for countries on five continents.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Diana Burke, of Lake Oswego, watches as Annie Kubiak, of Beaverton, shows pictures of children from their visit to Cambodia.

By Mark Miller
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