Jon Morgan is the founder and Executive Director of TLC – this is his personal story of how and why TLC became a reality:
“In 1994 I was making every effort to find employment in Viet Nam, the site of the research for my Masters in Public Health degree from the University of Hawai’i two years before. A chance meeting with the physician turned actor Haing Ngor (Academy Award for his role in “The Killing Fields”) and other prominent Khmer-Americans, along with the promise of free round trip tickets for my wife and I, brought us to Cambodia in July of that year. It was within days of our arrival in Cambodia that the seeds of The Lake Clinic were planted.
Those first years were tumultuous ones. Cambodia was still in the throes of a 3-way civil war. Travel anywhere in the country was dangerous and required pre-arranged convoys usually involving either UN or military escorts. There was no internet; no postal mail service outside of Phnom Penh; no landlines except those installed by the UN between 1989 and 1993. In 1996 Haing Ngor was murdered, and much of the funding for our work in community development stopped. It was a struggle to raise funds for work in a country that many people didn’t know, and others, mostly Americans, wanted to forget. About one year later Cambodia came under the influence of “The Asian Financial Crisis”. Banks closed and without banking regulations and insurance in place both our organization and our personal money disappeared. It was only a few weeks after that when there was a coup d’etat that turned Phnom Penh and its outskirts into battlefields once again.
And we stayed. We struggled and we managed to keep the work and ourselves going throughout the remainder of that year and into 1998. It was then that I heard about plans to build a pediatric hospital in Siem Reap. It took some talking, but I was able to persuade Friends Without A Border that they needed me. As a nurse with an MPH and an all-but-dissertation towards a DrPH I knew that I was well suited for that position. I am immensely proud of what was accomplished in the next 8 full years as Angkor Hospital for Children’s first Executive Director, and as it turned out those years were foundational to the development of The Lake Clinic.
It was during that very first week in Cambodia (1994) that my wife and I travelled to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh by boat. It was either a gruelling two day journey overland, or a one day journey by river. We chose the river, and later as we crossed the Tonle Sap Lake I had my first view of some of the floating communities. My first impression and my first words to my wife upon seeing one, “This is a nightmare, a real public health nightmare.” But there was nothing that I could do. I lacked knowledge, skills and expertise. I was at a loss for even the first step.
While at Angkor Hospital for Children I had the opportunity to establish routine outreach for the children living in two of the floating villages closest to Siem Reap town. It was only one or two days each month, but the project lasted three years and I learned a lot about the reality of those villages and what would be required to develop a program that would keep Cambodian staff willing to work in such an environment, and to do it not just once a month, but week after week. In the beginning of 2007 I left the Angkor Hospital for Children and immediately began working to create The Lake Clinic-Cambodia.
Others have described my twenty-year involvement with Cambodia, the Angkor Hospital for Children and now with The Lake Clinic as “labors of love”. But this is too poetic. This is work that has been needed and still needs to be done. Yes, it is about love. Love is what keeps you going when everything seems to be working against you–the weather or insufficient funding. Love is what feeds you and gives you the strength to do things right when the easy way is to just say ” good enough!”, and walk away. I can’t.”