Grammy Award-winning cellist and virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma has been announced as a Goodwill Ambassador for Friends Without A Border (Friends) as part of the nonprofit’s 20th Anniversary celebrations.
Founded in 1996, Friends Without A Border opened its first hospital, Angkor Hospital for Children, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Since its inception in 1999, the hospital has provided free and compassionate health care to more than 1.5 million children, trained thousands of local healthcare professionals, and provided medical outreach and education to communities across Cambodia. The same successful model of “Treatment + Education + Prevention” is now being implemented at their second hospital, Lao Friends Hospital for Children, in Luang Prabang, Laos.
Friends’ founder Kenro Izu, a renowned photographer, founded the organization after witnessing the tragic death of a young girl in a Cambodian health care facility during a trip to photograph the Angkor monuments. “The little girl was the same age as my daughter at the time. I just remember being so shocked something like that could happen. There she was, in a hospital with doctors and nurses nearby, and yet she did not receive treatment because the girl’s father couldn’t afford to pay two dollars for her care.”
Kenro Izu and Yo-Yo Ma first collaborated in 2002, when Izu’s fine art photographs of sacred sites were exhibited as part of the Silk Road Festival organized at The Smithsonian Institute. “Friends Without A Border is a remarkable organization, created by the vision of an extraordinary human being,” says Yo-Yo Ma. “Kenro Izu’s generous vision of sharing his art, of using his art so that people can actually have better lives is such a worthy cause to support, for all of us to pay attention to.”
While the children under-5 mortality rate in Cambodia has greatly decreased since 1996, pediatric health care is still an urgent concern in Lao PDR. Treatable illnesses such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition are common, with 1 out of 14 children not reaching the age of 5. Since its opening in February 2015, Lao Friends Hospital for Children has treated more than 11,000 children. Its medical team is composed of 11 local doctors and 24 nurses that receive continuous training and work alongside international staff and volunteers. A residency program for local medical students has also been implemented, as part of the organization’s strategic approach to use its hospitals as a base to positively impact the healthcare capacity of the entire country.