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Fundraiser kicked off for night market fire survivors

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Crowds gather in Pub Street for the fundraiser for two boys burned in Siem Reap's night market fire. Photograph: Alistair Walsh/Phnom Penh Post

A fundraising campaign has been started in Siem Reap to help pay ongoing hospital costs for two boys burned in Siem Reap’s night market fire tragedy on Saturday December 8, and to help keep the boys in hospital.

Siem Reap’s hospitality industry has banded together and to date has raised more than $2,000 for brothers Hu Sok Vatha, 13, and Sok Vuthy, 17, who both remain in hospital.

A raffle at the Banana Leaf restaurant on Saturday December 15 attracted more than 100 people to raise money for the brothers who survived the fire, but lost their two parents and a three-year -old sister.

Luy Sokphea, an uncle of the boys who was one of the first in the burning building, says the youths narrowly avoided the fate of the rest of their family.

“If the boys were sleeping in the same room as their parents they would have died together. Luckily they slept in separate rooms. The fire started from the front, that’s why the parents could not escape from the fire,” Sokphea told The Insider.

Sokphea arrived at the fire at 3.50am  after being alerted by family members in Phnom Penh. He entered the building to look for his family six times during the tragic morning.

“I climbed into the house. When I reached the second floor I saw five dead already, but I couldn’t find my sister and my brother,” Sokphea said.

“I and another man went to the upper floor, but I couldn’t find them because there was a lot of smoke and the heat was too strong. I climbed up and down six times but I couldn’t find her.

“The last time at about 6.30am  I climbed in again with four police. I went directly to her bathroom and I found her dead.”

Between searches for his sister, Sokphea visited local hospitals to track down his nephews who escaped the fire at 3.40am. The younger went to Kantha Bopha hospital, while the older was first sent to Phnom Penh and later to Ho Chi Minh City at a cost of $6000.

“In Phnom Penh we asked if there was hope for the boy. The doctor said if you have the money you should send him to Vietnam. We didn’t want to wait so we decided to send him to Ho Chi Minh City,” Sokphea said.

“There are three family members looking after him there, but my older sister came back because she needs to work. Her company told her if she doesn’t come back they will have to find new staff.

“My sister told me it will cost $200-$300 per day to keep the boy hospitalised and the hospital needs a deposit.”

The fund raising initiative was started by Geert Vanbaelen,  beverage manager at The Warehouse and employee of Fine Star wine distribution company, and Chan Sreyroth, general manager of the AngkorW chain of restaurants which includes Banana Leaf, Champey, Barrio, Madame Butterfly and others.

Geert Vanbaelen said, “We were shocked by what happened and how easily it could have been avoided.

“The family is friends of Sreyroth, that’s why we became more interested. We wanted to see what we could do. It’s also to show that the whole hotel restaurant community wants to get its voice heard on why that this can’t happen anymore.”

“Sok Vuthy’s situation is really bad. He needs to stay in hospital now and he’s going to need plastic surgery,” said Ms Sreyroth who is friends with the family of the victims.

Mr Vanbaelen is in Ho Chi Minh to deliver the funds but says they still need more. People can donate by emailing Geert at geert@warehouse-asia.com.

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