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HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Zurich paediatrician Dr. Beat Richner left his home country in March 1992 to rebuild the children's hospital in Phnom Penh, which had been destroyed by the war, with Swiss donations. He worked tirelessly for over 26 years: For Cambodia's poorest, for the weakest, for those who had no lobby. They were the focus of his concern and commitment. Richner's credo: Correct medical treatment, free of charge, for all children. 

Dr. Peter Studer was at his side from the very beginning. The two paediatricians worked side by side for decades, planning the reconstruction of the hospital, the extensions, the training of local staff and negotiating with authorities and donors. 

The merits of the two founders for the affected children and their families as well as for the foundation are immense. We all carry on their life's work. Here in Switzerland – and also in Cambodia, where many long-term local companions now share the responsibility for the hospitals.

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1974 / 1975
 

Beat Richner is on mission for the Swiss Red Cross (SRC) at the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital in Cambodia, caring for the poorest and still practising even when bombs hit the surroundings of the premises. When the Khmer Rouge finally seize power, the young doctor has to abruptly abandon his mission – for years to come he carries the hospital key in his trouser pocket as a kind of talisman. Beat Richner returns to Switzerland and resumes his former work at the Children's Hospital in Zurich. In 1978 he opens his own practice in Zurich together with fellow doctor Fredi Löhrer.

 

1974 is also an exciting year for Peter Studer. For six weeks, he accompanies his brother Urs, who is leading a mobile SRC team in Laos. Once again, Peter's conviction and desire to work in developing countries grows. In 1979 he leads an SRC team in a camp for Cambodian refugees in Thailand. In 1981 and 1982 he spends several months working for the SRC in Cambodia, in a hospital in Kampong Cham on the Mekong.  

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1991

 

During the Peace Agreement for Cambodia in Paris, Beat Richner is in town by chance for a concert visit. And that's where the ball starts rolling: The paediatrician decides to travel to Cambodia to visit the children's hospital he had to leave in haste years before. King Norodom Sihanouk and the government finally ask the Swiss to rebuild and manage the Kantha Bopha operation – because the institution was destroyed during the war. Only two of the doctors Beat Richner worked with in the 1970s are still alive.

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 from 1999
 
The government asks the Swiss paediatricians to build a third children's hospital in the north of the country – near the temple city of Angkor Wat. It is to be named Jayavarman VII, after the 12th century king who built four hospitals in Cambodia at that time.

On 12 October 1996, the new children's hospital is inaugurated in the presence of the King and the then President of the Swiss Confederation Jean-Pascal Delamuraz. A maternity unit is added at the same location in 2001.

In the following years, the operations are modernised and expanded. In 2002, the training and conference centre in Siem Reap starts operations.

Kantha Bopha IV opens its doors in December 2005,  Kantha Bopha V in Phnom Penh in December 2007.  

2017 / 2018
 
Beat Richner has to be taken to Zurich for examinations due to a serious illness. He then remains in Switzerland and dies on 9 September 2018 near Zurich. His ashes rest in a tomb in front of the hospital in Siem Reap. Peter Studer takes over the management of the hospitals. 

1947
 
Beat Richner is born in Zurich on 13 March. He is the fourth child of Hildegard and Theophil, both teachers. He grows up in a harmonious environment and a sheltered family on Zürichberg. As a boy he collects stamps, prefers to take the car on excursions instead of walking – and always says what he thinks. Early on, he discovers his love of music and medicine; he decides to pursue the latter professionally. Beat Richner is active in the student movement, works as a night watchman in Zurich's Seefeld and performs with his cello in small theatres. After studying medicine, he specialises in paediatrics at the Zurich Children's Hospital.

Peter Studer is born in Lucerne on 14 March. He spends his youth with his parents and two siblings in Hünibach, directly on Lake Thun – from August 1952 the family lives in the USA for a year. At school he meets classmate Heinz, a boy with severe cerebral palsy who speaks almost incomprehensibly. This might have influenced his choice of career. At the age of 12, Peter decides to become a paediatrician despite the fact that he has no role model and does not even know a paediatrician. After his studies and specialist training, he runs his own paediatric practice in Reinach AG.

1970s- & 1980s
 

While working as a doctor, Beat Richner develops the figure of the musical clown Beatocello. He performs as Beatocello in German-speaking Switzerland as well as abroad. To illustrate his programme and his musical-poetic stories, he mainly publishes children's books with simple stick figures. These kinds of illustrations will accompany him throughout his life.

1992
 
On 27 March, Beat Richner establishes a foundation in Zurich, plans to travel to Phnom Penh in May to immediately start rebuilding the Kantha Bopha I children's hospital.

Peter Studer reads about the Zurich paediatrician´s plans in a newspaper. He knows from his own missions: Nothing works in Cambodia. So this Dr. Richner must be a real daredevil – and certainly grateful for support. Peter Studer calls him and meets him the day before the big departure for Cambodia. That same summer, the two of them analyse the situation on the ground together, make plans, move forward.
As paediatricians, both have lost their hearts to the poverty-stricken country – this task and the commitment to the poorest people unites them for the rest of their lives. 

On 2 November 1992, Kantha Bopha I resumes its operations. In the following years, the hospital is built and expanded to serve the most urgent needs of the young patients. As the children's hospital quickly gains notoriety and the mothers trust the Swiss doctor, it soon reaches its capacity limits. In 1996,
Kantha Bopha II opens, built in the garden of the royal palace.

​By the way: The name Kantha Bopha means
Fragrant Flower. This was the name of King Sihanouk's beloved daughter, who died of leukaemia in 1952, when she was only 3 years old.

2003
 
On 5 January, Beat Richner is named the very first «Swiss Personality of the Year» at the «Swiss Award» TV gala. 23 percent of the participants vote for him, honouring his commitment to the poorest people in the world. Since then, personalities such as Roger Federer, Peter Sauber, Köbi Kuhn, Didier Cuche and Polo Hofer have won the award.

2020
 
After a short, serious illness, Peter Studer passes away on 6 May 2020.
«Les fils spirituels» take over the management of the hospitals in Cambodia: General Director Dr. biol. Denis Laurent and the two chief physicians Prof. Dr. med. Yay Chantana and Prof. Dr. med. Ky Santy had been with Beat Richner and Peter Studer since the beginning and worked with them for decades. 

The children's hospitals today
 
What has happened since? How have the operations developed?
Find out more about the hospitals here.
Find out who is behind the foundation and who runs the hospitals here.
Find out about anything current and exciting happening right now here

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