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From the PublisherFrom Winnipeg Free Press:
This non-fiction entry is an alluring chronicle of one young doctor's experience as a member of a Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) team assigned to the impoverished village of Sisophon, Cambodia, during the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge civil war in the early 1990s.
This is not the typical memoir of heroic doctors braving war zones to save lives. Ontario-based Richard Heinzl, founder of the Canadian chapter of Doctors Without Borders, takes the reader past the expected sphere of the crisis in humanitarian aid.
He provides an honest and personal assessment of the challenges and professional obstacles that confronted him in Cambodia and within Doctors Without Borders.
Heinzl's coming-of-age story begins in Uganda in 1985. As though he were scripting an international movie drama, Heinzl shares the sense of being a fish out of water as he walks "into a foreign country in plain view, a 22-year-old medical student from the other side of the world on elective in Africa."
So begins Heinzl's journey of self-discovery. He is looking for a taxi to take him from a Kenya-Uganda border crossing near Tororo along the Jinja-Kampala highway to work at Mulago Hospital with Liz and Don Hillman, Canadian pediatricians running a program called the Child Health and Maternity Program (CHAMP).
The story is compelling. Heinzl provides exceptional details of how he confronted his self-doubt as a newly trained doctor questioning his intent and commitment to humanitarian aid. He successfully captures his inner turmoil through his dialogue with his mentors, colleagues and friends. The reader becomes a true witness to Heinzl's experience.
The thread that ties his account together from Uganda, back to McMaster University in Hamilton and on to the Caribbean, Amsterdam and finally Cambodia in 1991 is Heinzl's exceptional ability to shine a light of all who affected him along the way.
It is as if you are sitting in very comfortable chair by a fire in the dead of winter listening to him share his exciting and life changing experiences.
You come to know Heinzl and those connected to him, be it his mentor Dr. Jim Anderson, one of the professors at McMaster medical school in the 1980s who successfully trained doctors by the Socratic method, or his experienced, laid-back Dutch medical partner, Rob Overtoom, who knew what to do and how to get it done in Cambodia.
Heinzl captures that sense of joy that comes when one goes beyond merely sharing one's knowledge to sharing one's self with the people in the Cambodian community that he briefly called home.
His writing enables you to feel the sweat running down his body as he shares the joy of the down time with like-minded companions drinking imported beer over ice after a long day in the hospital.
The reader also learns of the frustration associated with establishing the Canadian chapter of Doctors Without Borders. Heinzl makes sure the reader realizes that politics is evident in all forms of human interaction including respected humanitarian aid organizations.
The book will not only be enjoyed by those interested in understanding the crisis of humanitarian aid agencies around the world but also by those seeking an excellent coming-of-age memoir by a doctor who should consider a second calling as an author.
Doug Edmond is a Winnipeg educator who recently volunteered for Habitat for Humanity in New Zealand.
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