Mary, 18, was born with a persistent hole in her heart which caused her breathlessness and heart palpitations. The tips of her fingers and toes were also swollen (“clubbed”) due to this condition.
In 2013, the Salesian Sisters at Don Bosco Girls’ School in Battambang highlighted her plight to Mission Srolanh (srolanh means “love” in Khmer), a non-profit project organised by Catholic medical students from the National University of Singapore together with doctors from the Catholic Medical Guild.
Part of their work includes an annual mission trip to conduct health screenings and education and community involvement projects to rural villages in Cambodia’s Battambang province.
Mary was initially scheduled for surgery in Phnom Penh at an estimated cost of US$5,000 (S$7,000), a sum that the nuns found difficult to raise.
According to members of Mission Srolanh, Mary was initially reluctant but later agreed to come to Singapore, and was accompanied by her mother, Marly, and their parish priest, Fr Manoj.
From July 7-14, Mary and her mother were hosted by a Catholic family, while Fr Manoj stayed at the Jesuit residence at the Church of St Ignatius.
Mission Srolanh members worked with a local hospital for Mary’s medical treatment and funding, and her surgery went smoothly and successfully.
Ms Christine Yuan, a Catholic medical student who hosted Mary and her mother, told CatholicNews that although the language barrier made offering simple things such as coffee a challenge, love could always be expressed, “regardless of what language the person speaks”, through gestures.
During her recovery, Mary would also often smile and say “sister/brother, happy” in the little English she knew.
Towards the end of the visitors’ stay in Singapore, Fr Manoj celebrated a thanksgiving Mass with the Singapore medical students and doctors who helped support Mary over the past two years.
She has since returned to Cambodia and graduated from Don Bosco Girls’ School in dressmaking.
Mary and her parents are preparing to be baptised next Easter.
For more information on Mission Srolanh, visit www.facebook.com/missionsrolanh