Good Samaritan: Aussie volunteer in Cambodia saves injured French traveller

An Australian volunteer in Cambodia has saved a terrified woman who was left naked and without food in a men's wardof a hospital after a traffic accident.

The French woman awoke from an operation to find she had no clothes, purse or passport and was unable to communicate with anyone at the hospital in Phnom Penh.

Bryan Humphrey effectively rescued her by paying $500 towards her hospital bill and contacting the French embassy.

He is a former senior public servant in Queensland and a lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne.

In Phnom Penh he is working for Australian Volunteers International, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

His two-year contract involves working with four non-government organisations as a learning and development mentor on issues such as child protection, violence against women and people trafficking.


Dr Humphrey had no thought of being a good Samaritan when he went to the hospital last Saturday.

His housekeeper, Sophorn, had told him her brother was in jail after hitting a pedestrian with his motorcycle.

The police were demanding the man's family pay at least $1000 – five month's wages for most Cambodian workers – in compensation to the accident victim, a French tourist, before the man could be released from jail.

Dr Humphrey went with Sophorn to the hospital to seek agreement from the accident victim to have the young man released from jail, in return for paying her medical bills.

"It is a peculiar justice system," he said from Phnom Penh.

"The family of the young man who was riding the moto [motorcycle] had managed to borrow $600, an absolute fortune for them, but they were still short.

"They asked if I would go to the hospital to act as translator and mediator, as it was believed the French woman spoke some English.

"However, in the ward, my Western sensitivities were immediately struck – here was the 30-year-old French woman in a bed, in a ward shared with two males.

"She was naked under the sheet, she'd had an operation on her broken leg, she didn't know where her passport or purse was.

"She was travelling alone and had no phone or travel insurance.

"The police had set up a desk at the end of her bed and two male officers were watching her.

"The Khmer doctors spoke no English so she didn't even know what operation she'd had.

"She was terrified and I decided she had to be my first priority even though I was there for another purpose."

Dr Humphrey said he spent the first hour talking to the woman to find out what her circumstances were.

"We needed to get her clothes and get her some food and above all, she needed some reassurance she was no longer isolated," he said.

"She'd had no food – the Khmer medical system still believes you don't feed patients after an operation --- so she had no food or water for two days although she was on a drip so she wasn't dying."

Dr Humphrey managed to get clothes and food, and contacted the French embassy's after-hours emergency number.

"The family was short $500 so I paid the difference because I could, it was no great drama for me," he said.

"The French woman then agreed to sign an agreement to have the young man released from jail.

"The other good Samaritan in this is an American woman who saw the accident and gave the victim's passport and purse to the hospital.

"The hospital put the passport in the safe as collateral on the payment of its bills."

Asked why he paid hundreds of dollars for a stranger's bills, Dr Humphrey said the alternative was for the family to incur a deep debt with a money lender.

"I knew the family members and they'd welcomed me into their family at a recent wedding," he said.

"As well, Sophorn had been very kind to me when I was ill earlier this year.

"It was not going to be a big deal to me in terms of finance.

"You don't like to give away hundreds of dollars, but is it going to make a long-term impact on my life? The answer is no.

"And could that money be the critical thing to make a difference in this situation? Yes."

A doctor from the French embassy has taken over the woman's care.

"It is possible the woman has other injuries apart from the broken leg, but I am confident she is now in a support network," Dr Humphrey said.