Key Milestones in Beat Richner’s Work
Beat Richner founded the first Kantha Bopha children’s hospital in 1992, so we have just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. Over the next 25 years, the Swiss doctor opened four more hospitals in Cambodia, providing free treatment to over 15 million patients.
After graduating as a pediatrician in 1973, he was sent to Cambodia by the Swiss Red Cross to work at the Kantha Bopha children’s hospital. Unfortunately, his mission was abruptly cut short when the Khmer Rouge invaded the country. Dr. Richner was forced to return to Switzerland and resume his former position at the Children’s Hospital Zurich. In 1980, he opened his own practice in Zurich, which he shared with a colleague.
Alongside his medical career, Beat Richner developed the character of BEATOCELLO in 1972, an artist who combined comedy, clown poetry, and music. He gave countless performances, mainly in German-speaking Switzerland but also abroad. Beat Richner also published several books, primarily for children, accompanying his music shows that highlighted poetic and humanitarian stories.
In December 1991, Dr. Richner was entrusted by King Norodom Sihanouk and the Cambodian government to rebuild and manage the Kantha Bopha children’s hospital, which had been destroyed during the war. His life took a new turn, and he accepted this mission with determination. Since then, the Kantha Bopha hospitals have continued to provide quality care to Cambodian children in need, without their families having to spend a single cent.
The thirty years of Kantha Bopha’s existence bear witness to Beat Richner’s exceptional dedication to the children of Cambodia. His work has had a significant impact on the health and well-being of millions of children, and his humanitarian legacy will continue to inspire future generations.
In September 2018, Beat Richner passed away after a long illness. His dedication to the children of Cambodia leaves behind a precious and inspiring legacy. His work will remain an example of compassion and commitment for future generations.
This exhibition highlights the journey and relentless struggle of a man and his team to realize one of the most beautiful projects imaginable: to treat all children, regardless of their origin or condition. It bears witness to their unwavering determination and unwavering commitment.
The exposition is free to visit. Just come and enter through the main entrance on Charles de Gaulle Avenue. You can visit from 9 am to 5 pm daily or explore the virtual tour, where all the artwork and newspaper articles are clickable. There are six cubicles showcasing this incredible story:
- Once upon a time – In 1974, Dr. Beat Richner, a young Swiss paediatrician, arrived at the Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh for the International Committee of the Red Cross. This was the starting point of his eventful Cambodian history, which would make him head of a hospital empire recognised by all until 2017. It was the realisation of his ambition to provide free treatment to all children in Cambodia in accordance with international medical standards. Responding to a growing crowd of severely sick patients, an inevitable expansion of the hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and the opening of new state-of-the-art medical and surgical services followed.
- Controversy – Since 1992, Dr. Richner advocated correct and modern medicine for all children in Cambodia and by doing so attracted the wrath of international organisations and experts of all kinds. Responding vehemently to all these unfounded criticisms, he demonstrated the rightness of his commitment day after day and became a key player in paediatric health in Cambodia. After 25 years of a relentless fight, his model was recognised internationally and himself nationally by becoming Secretary of State at the Ministry of Health. There were so many pitfalls to overcome to obtain this legitimate recognition.
- Knowledge transfer – Already in 1995, by deciding to employ and train young Cambodians to the best international standards and by giving them the medical responsibilities, Dr. Richner made a winning bet for the future of Cambodia and the sustainability of its hospitals. Three decades later, these young doctors and nurses have become the undisputed leaders of the Kantha Bopha Hospitals and also of paediatric health in Cambodia. After many successful collaborations with foreign specialists, mainly from Switzerland and France, the experienced Cambodian specialists can in turn train their young colleagues, the succession is assured for the generations to come.
- BEATocello – Two names for one cause, saving the children of Cambodia. Dr. Beat Richner, visionary paediatrician and founder of the Kantha Bopha hospitals. Beatocello, sophisticated cellist, caustic clown and poetic illustrator. These two traits make him a unique man, the first Swiss Citizen of the year in 2002, who had sacrificed the previous 25 years of his life for more medical justice in Cambodia. Still respected and supported in Switzerland for his vision of a fairer medicine and his humanitarian charisma, his ashes rest peacefully in front of his most beautiful creation, only a few steps away from the famous temples of Angkor.
- And now… – Since February 2017, Beat has left us with an incredible legacy to rewrite in the future. Under the leadership of Dr. Peter Studer, his companion from the beginning, the hospitals developed in quality and quantity, accessing the latest medical technologies. New high-tech intensive care units have been built in the last 3 years, symbolising the support of the Swiss and Cambodian foundations and their respective governments, thus ensuring the sustainability of the Kantha Bopha hospitals for the next decade. It is now up to us Cambodians to ensure the continuity these high-quality activities in the spirit of its founder so that the hospitals become and remain the reference hospitals in paediatrics, an aspiration of the highest leaders in Cambodia.
- Gratitude – The incredible success of the Kantha Bopha Hospitals has only been possible thanks to the thousands of donors from Switzerland since 1992, the unwavering support of their Majesties from the very beginning, the efficient financial and moral intervention of the Cambodian and Swiss governments, the daily and demanding work of the dedicated and professional Cambodian staff, the thousands of donors in Cambodia who recognise the unparalleled importance of the hospitals. Our most sincere thanks to all those who have contributed with their financial, moral, and medical support and have believed in Dr. Richner’s vision of correct and accessible medicine for all children in Cambodia without discrimination. All these children, saved and healthy, are the bright future of a country and they thank you from the bottom of their hearts.
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