Cambodia: The bishop that changed the lives of wheelchair-bound refugees

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Thirty-one years spent in Cambodia with refugees and war victims have conferred him an inclusive and open mindset. The Jesuit Enrique Figaredo is the bishop of Battambang, in Cambodia, on the border with Thailand. When he requested to work with refugees, however, he never expected this to be his fate.
Bishop of Battambang (Cambodia)
'I never expected a letter from Bangkok, I expected a letter from Rome. And they told me: 'We have Laotian refugees, Vietnamese and Cambodians, but our priority are the Cambodians and the crippled'. FLASH 'I come to serve, to work, and to learn, and that is where we start. And after that, you fall in love with your mission, with the people, with their lives, their causes, and everything, and you become one of them, and you join them.�

He went to a country full of forced migrants and men wounded by anti-personnel mines. In the refugee camps he started with the basics: trying to restore these people with their lives, which had been stripped from them. And he did it thanks to vocational workshops. The one that changed the most lives was, without a doubt, a wheelchair-making one.
Bishop of Battambang (Cambodia)
'The disabled that learned to build wheel-chairs gave me a tool to help other disabled. It is like a new sacrament that transforms the lives of the people, made by the disabled for the disabled, and the priest is in the middle of it, helping change the life of the child sick with polio, or the elderly person that has had hemiparesis, or the crippled. It completely transforms their life.�

The 'bishop of the wheelchair� has been a witness of how refugees can slowly start leading a normal life, with a little help, and they can contribute a lot to society. That is why, in the face of the 65-million-strong refugee crisis, he wants to highlight this fact.
Bishop of Battambang (Camboya)
'We need to prioritize the cause of the refugees. Because they are people with dignity and with a an ability to change the world, and if not, we will lose the opportunity, which will cause human civilization to go backwards. And also these refugees will help us reach peace because they know the sufferings of war in their life.�

Recently, Monsignor Figaredo has started a textile factory, a café, student residence halls and several primary schools. What was once a country overcome by war and without a future has managed to stand on its feet once again.


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