How would you describe Sarou? One word comes to mind straight away; committed.
This is the man responsible for Battambang Ophthalmic Clinic. Not just its daily operation but its reason for being there in the first place.
We first met some 7 years ago. He had the look in his eyes that he still has today. Hard to describe really, it was a mix of vision, grace and ordinariness all rolled into one but you were left with an impression that something needed to be done or something was about to happen.
BOC was just a dream back then. Over 20,000 surgeries later it feels even more like a dream.
I remember a village visit leading to a chat with three young men who’d just finished high school. Sarou swung on the hammock beneath the raised wooden house, one leg flopping over the edge with a thong loosely hanging off the end of his foot. He spoke, we listened.
In 1971 Sarou’s father was killed in the lead up to the Khmer Rouge seizing power. He remembers his mother selling cakes to support the family. He remembers the walk to school and back with no shoes on his feet, 5 kilometres one way, four times each day thinking to himself when the trouble was over the country would need people with education. In the early nineties Sarou was supported by a UK based NGO to study optometry. He liked maths but he had no idea what optometry was. He started as one of twelve. He finished the best of four.
“With no money in my pocket, study”. This was the lesson.
Call it destiny, opportunity or good fortune. I’m not sure what to call it. The one thing I know is that one ordinary looking fella has taken what’s come his way with two hands and paid it forward a hundredfold … plus some!