In 1983, my parents fled the killing fields of Cambodia for the relative safety of a refugee camp in Thailand. This is where I was born. Ten months after my birth, my family was sponsored as refugees and was able to relocate to Chicago, Illinois. The United States truly was the “land of opportunity” and my family did well. My parents had three more children, all girls, and relocated to Orange County, California.
After graduation and a brief stint in the health care industry, I followed my passion for philanthropy and started SmileOnU, a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide the “gift of smile” to those in need. Since 2013, SmileOnU has provided everything from cleanings and fillings to full mouth reconstructions. The smile on the faces of our clients speaks volumes, and energizes me and our volunteers to not only continue our mission, but to also expand our network.
Earlier this year, I met with an organization called Project Angkor, a humanitarian nonprofit with a mission to serve the Kingdom of Cambodia by providing free health care to under-served communities. In January, SmileOnU dentists and volunteers will be joining Project Angkor’s 2016 mission. This will be SmileOnU’s first international mission.
The planning and organization for this operation has been intense and challenging; my greatest challenge thus far, and at times I became afraid I had taken on too big a task. There’s always next year, I would tell myself, thinking it was time to throw in the towel. But then fate stepped in.
One day I decided to visit a dentist I had met while working in the field, Dr. Deborah Ruprecht. I shared with her my passion and goals for this upcoming mission in Cambodia and without hesitation, she jumped on board as lead dentist for the clinic and helped recruit other volunteer dentists.
It is with pleasure to say we are traveling to Kampong Cham, Cambodia on Dec 28, 2015 for a 5 day clinic Jan 2-6, 2016. Here we will provide much needed dental care to 1,000 children and adults where very few have ever seen a dentist. They live with chronic oral pain and have an inability to consume the necessary nutrients due to poor oral health. Our team of DDS will be providing tooth extractions, fillings and dental cleanings. Cambodia is a country still recovering from the 1970’s genocide. The crimes against humanity, mass torture and execution, led to 2 million deaths. This is the legacy of three decades of war which leaves Cambodia stricken by poverty and dangerous land mines.
All of our supplies and are donations come from Benco, Ayuda, and SmileOnU’s dentists and individual donors. However, with less than 1 month to go, we are still short of all the supplies needed to run a successful clinic. So the fundraising continues!
The dentists and volunteers are excited about our upcoming adventure. One thing I have learned from my time in the dental industry is that dentists are very generous people! They, like me myself, love to give the gift of smile to anyone who is in need.
For me, I am excited and nervous. Returning to Cambodia, my mother’s home country and a country that has suffered for decades due to war and hardships, serves both a personal and professional goal. Genocide and other crimes against humanity are well documented, but my family was one of the lucky ones. Later, in 2005, a family trip back to Cambodia would prove to be an experience that would alter my life forever.
I, in college at the time, during our month long stay, was proud and happy to witness my mother return to the country of her birth; a country still suffering the effects of war and genocide. While there, she helped fund a community place of worship and a water reservoir. My sisters and I had brought items from America to hand out, and I even had the chance to teach English to a small group of children. It is these types of experiences that warms you inside and gives you goose bumps at the same time. Seeing how these people lived, struggled, worked and thrived was an experience I greatly appreciated. I may have helped a few children, but I was the one rewarded. My passion for philanthropy was ignited during that trip and now, exactly ten years later, I get to return to the place where it all started.
Funny how life works.
If you would like to help with our mission, please contact me at BB@SmileOnU.org.