Photographer Kenro Izu made a healthy living from the temples of Angkor Wat. Now he's giving back through his Centre for Friends Without a Border
Kenro Izu holds a young visitor to the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap.
JAPANESE photographer Kenro Izu had 650,001 reasons to smile during the colourful opening ceremony of the state-of-the-art Centre for Friends Without A Border's new building, next to Siem Reap's Angkor Hospital for Children.
The opening of such a smart new "green" building, funded by Sterling Stamos Capital Management - a US private investment firm practising corporate philanthropy - was one reason the slightly built and unassuming photographer was smiling.
The other 650,000 reasons were because since Izu founded the Friends organisation 14 years ago, 650,000 children have received medical treatment, and many of those had their lives saved.
In 1993, Izu first came to Siem Reap to photograph the famous temples, and during that visit he met many injured children, including one land mine victim with no arms or legs.
He returned the following year, visited the Siem Reap Provincial Hospital and witnessed the death of a sick little girl.
"She died in front of my eyes while I was interviewing her father. She died because her father spent all his money, US$3, to transport the girl from their village.
"By the time he arrived at the hospital, there was no money left. The result was that she didn't get the treatment she needed and died after a few days of being in a coma. The doctors at the hospital didn't do anything even though they knew she was critical.
"I was really hurt to see that because the girl was the same age as my daughter, so I immediately felt like I was that father seeing my own daughter die."
A ‘wild dream'
It was at that point Izu developed what he calls his "wild dream" - his dream to do something to prevent more children from dying in Siem Reap simply because their parents could not afford a few dollars for adequate treatment or medicine.
"Back then, I knew that I couldn't save the world. But I also knew I had to do something," Izu said. "I had very satisfactory results, both commercially and artistically, from my photography at Angkor Wat.
"At that time, I also had a complex that my photography, which was mostly architectural, wasn't really doing all that much for the world. War photographers could possibly make things happen because of the power of their work, but my photographs were just nice to look at it. And, as I say, I developed a complex about this.
"I then decided that because I was making money from my Angkor Wat photography, and taking its out of the country, it was time to put some back.
"I decided to sell some of my photos in America and Japan and send the proceeds back here to set up a simple clinic.
"I wasn't that ambitious. I just envisaged a little clinic to treat children for emergencies so that they didn't have to die needlessly. They didn't have to die simply because they weren't born in America or Europe."
Izu's idea for a makeshift emergency clinic to stop children needlessly dying tugged at the heartstrings of those he approached.
Within the space of five years his wild dream became a reality that far exceeded his initial plan - his humble clinic quickly grew to become a major children's hospital that opened in 1999. It remains one of the best of its kind in Cambodia.
"It all grew so fast," Kenro told the Post. "Donations in New York increased so quickly that I then decided to open a little hospital.
"At first, we started with just the outpatients' clinic and then, when the staff was capable, we opened an inpatients' ward. Then, an emergency ward, a surgical facility and an operating theatre, and an intensive care unit, until we had the hospital that stands here now."
Corporate funding, private donations, and free help from American architectural firms and others meant that, in the span of five years, the little clinic that lived in Kenro's dreams became a major hospital.
Meanwhile, back on the home front. the Friends Without A Border organisation has taken over Kenro's life, and his wife, also a photographer, has had to take over the running of the family business, a photographic studio in New York.
"My wife now runs the photo studio because she said someone has to take care of business while I chase my dream," Kenro said. "I succeed simply because I just trust everyone. I'm very, very proud of what together we have been able to build. I trusted many people, and in turn I am very thankful to the many people who trusted me, shared my dream and supported me."