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Scott Allen, MD
Physician/Human Rights Activist/Singer/Songwriter
With only a one-way ticket, a U.S. Passport and $70 dollars in his pocket, 17 year old Scott Allen
slipped quietly out of his suburban Connecticut hometown and caught a plane
bound for Bangkok, and ultimately, the Cambodian border...
The Hartford Courant
Friday, June 20, 1980
Teen-Ager Working in Thai Camp
By DEBORAH PETERSON
CANTON- When Scott Allen was 10 years old with burns over 35 percent of his body, he watched as a nurse pulled blood-caked bandages off a badly burned 2-year-old girl next to him in the intensive care unit of a burns institute.
When he was 17 years old he opened Life magazine and saw a photograph of several children burned and bleeding in the aftermath of a bomb that went off during the Nicaraguan civil war.
Last March, nine months after seeing that picture, the Canton resident packed his bags and got a one-way ticket to Thailand where he planned to help in the refugee camps.
In a journal written to his parents with copies sent to his high school principal Scott responded to those who asked why he had gone. "My short, crude answer is that this is part of my education plan, and more important, emotionally I felt compelled to do this.I can't explain."
"What finally put the hook in me was a picture," he said.
Now working with the U.S. Embassy personnel in the southern tail of Thailand, Scott is helping to lessen the culture shock that many Vietnamese when they come to the United States.
"Maybe it's too much of a psychological explanation, but the burns he had may explain why he is so sensitive to these types of things," said his father, Robert Allen.
Scott spent three months in the Shriner's Burns Institute in Boston after he, his brother and a friend imitated a news clipping they'd seen by drawing a peace sign with gasoline and setting it on fire.
His father said that Scott spent several months working as a volunteer in the emergency room at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington and has an interest in medicine.
In a story which won third prize on the national level of the Scholastic Writing Contest, Scott wrote of the 2-year-old girl at the bed next to his own.As the bandages were pulled off, he wrote, "My muscles tensed with her cry, for I knew that pain well.The pain cannot be described.It can only be understood by those who have endured it, and they need no description."
His father and mother, Jane Allen, plan to visit him in July.They have little information on his latest experiences because he recently went off to Songkhla and has not sent more journal entries. Several previous entries give a vivid picture of his experiences at Mairut, a camp near the southern end of the Thai-Cambodian border.The journal entries give him the final English credits he needs to be graduated from Canton High School. He has been accepted at Bates College in Maine, where officials say he may enter at any time.
The elder Allen, explaining that he and his wife took the "typical conservative parent reaction," when Scott told them he was planning to leave, said they tried to convince him to go to college.
"It's hard to talk about your own child, but we have always known that Scott is incredibly competent, but still when a kid is 17 and he wants to go away 30,000 miles to a culture we're uninformed about, you get very scared and nervous," he said."Now we know he did the right thing, and we're proud and all that stuff."
Ironically, when Scott decided last September that he wanted to help, he had difficulty finding an agency that would hire him.Most of the refugee camps had already been set up, and Scott's young age was a point against him.
He did research for nine months and made calls around the world. "Scott doesn't write like the rest of us - he phones," his father said.
Finally, after arriving in Thailand with no knowledge of the language and $80 in his pocket, Scott became a member of the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief to Refugees, joining with one doctor and seven nurses at Mairut.
"Teaching English, supervising construction, assisting with maintenance of housing and participating in a little administration are the jobs here that are traditionally recognized, "he wrote in a journal entry March 29. "However, the greatest need now of the people is emotional."
At times his optimism and sense of humor are intertwined with ahint of fatalism.Comparing the refugee situation with characters in "Grapes of Wrath" who had a dream of reaching California, Scott wrote, "But even if they (refugees) make it in several years to the states their troubles will be far from over.They are happier than hell for a month or two in the third country, but then they get lonely and homesick."
He said, however, that he hopes a family with all their problems, that have "adopted me" will someday come to the United States.The family was in the first flood of people to cross the border to Sakeo in November 1979 after escaping to Saigon then to Thailand. They had to leave their three children and the children's grandmother in Saigon and have not seen them for almost a year.
Canton High School Principal Nicholas R. Salvatore, who calls Scott the "most uniquely creative kid we've had in all the years I've been principal, "said that Scott covers up some of his sensitive feelings with his sense of humor. Although Scott missed his senior class festivities this year, some celebrations were allowed in Mairut for the observance of the Khmer New Year in April. Also, he plays guitar and sings for the refugees. The favorite is "Let It Be."
There is also the draining, blistering sun he works under all day.But there are also the children.
"The children," he writes."That's how we keep going.They give us our energy when the blistering sun has taken it away.About half the refugees there are children."
After talking to a 5-year old girl, he said he was again distracted from his work. Five minutes later, he resumes writing. "Mui -bee- bay-bun..." "She is now counting a stack of garbage pails in the corner. I say to her "Mui -bee- bay...One, two, three..."
"I am refueled.Safe for at least another six hours."
The entire story of Scott's journey, and the story of the Cambodian family whom he brefriended, and the twenty five year relationship, is now told in Scott's new memoir, Across a Bridge of Hair and Bones, currently being shopped. Across a Bridge of Hair and Bones is a story about trauma, injury, hope, healing and redemption. Serious inquiries for publishing rights may be directed to Scott Allen.
For more information about the manuscript, click here.
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