A mission to 'love all'

Kum Suor was only ten years old when he felt the lump in his leg. Helplessly he waited for it to heal, not knowing what to do. When his parents discovered something was wrong, they took him to Siem Reap for treatment, but when they were told the operation would cost far more than they could ever raise, it became a desperate situation. Thankfully, a local Catholic organisation heard Kum Suor’s story and stepped in.

The Arrupe Centre, in the western Cambodian city of Battambang, provides education, development and community outreach programs for children with disabilities and their families. It was founded in 2001 by Bishop Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzalez, a Spanish missionary known affectionately as the ‘Bishop of Wheelchairs’ for his decades of work with people with disabilities.

Over the years, the centre has welcomed many children and young people through its doors, providing a place of comfort and hope, concepts that can seem far off to a person with a disability in Cambodia. In addition to the tuition, physical and spiritual development and social activities that the centre provides, one of its most critical undertakings is the outreach into remote areas of the province, where the voices of the vulnerable remain unheard.

Kum Suor, now 14, could have experienced a very different outcome. Diagnosed with a tumour in his leg at the age of ten, and with his parents unable to afford the necessary operation despite his father taking a job in Thailand, it looked hopeless for the young boy. But the outreach team at Arrupe happened to be stationed in Kum Suor’s home village just as his family went to seek help.

He returned to hospital, this time in Battambang. ‘I was in a lot of pain. I asked them, “when will you take my leg?”’ he recalls. ‘I couldn’t sleep, the pain was so bad. But then I had the operation to amputate my leg, and the Arrupe Centre paid for it. I am very grateful.’

Today, Kum Suor can afford to set his sights firmly on the future. ‘Now I play a lot of tennis. Two of the staff helped me to learn how to play with one leg,’ he says. ‘I am very happy that I can also study and go to school.’

His favourite subject in school is Khmer language, and one day he wants to be a translator. While he is excited about his future and the activities he can now do at the centre, he is more thankful for Arrupe’s support of his family. ‘The Arrupe Centre makes visits to my family and brings them rice and other needs. I am glad that they are being looked after too.’

The Arrupe Centre is located just a short walk from the Battambang central business district, where, nestled in a narrow street is the Lonely Tree Café. The café is funded by Catholic Mission, run by a mostly volunteer staff, and is one of the primary fundraising arms of the Arrupe Centre. It serves food and drinks, and sells handicrafts made by local women as part of a social enterprise program. Supporting the Lonely Tree social enterprise and the Arrupe Centre gives young people like Kum Suor a chance for a full life.