Beatocello: A doctor, cellist, and hero to Cambodian children

By Tania LaCaria
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Surely no one is surprised to hear that corruption, poverty, bureaucracy and scepticism are abundantly present in the streets of Cambodia.  At times, it can be difficult to look beyond the faults of this pained country, and I personally caught myself believing that all hope was lost for this beautiful nation… until I met Beatocello.

Dr. Beat Richner, affectionately called Beatocello by locals and tourists alike, is a charismatic and delightfully witty doctor who was born in Zurich in 1947 and practiced paediatrics at the Zurich Children’s Hospital for several years. In 1975, the Red Cross sent Dr. Richner to Cambodia to work at the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital but he was soon forced to return to Zurich once the destructive Khmer Rouge invaded. Luckily for the children of Cambodia, Dr. Richner fondly reminisced about his time in Cambodia often; so when the Cambodian government asked him to return in 1991 to help rebuild the destroyed children’s hospital, he was eager to pack his bags.


Once he noticed the funding for the hospital construction and its doctors was limited, he began playing free cello concerts for tourists (hence the pet name, Beato-CELLO) in exchange for donations towards Kantha Bopha. The concert experience that I attended was extremely moving.

I sat in a small auditorium with nearly 60 other tourists of all ages and watched him play the large instrument effortlessly in between recounts of his experience working with Kantha Bopha. He had the entire audience fully entertained…but he never lost sight of the purpose behind his performance and speech. He asked the young, healthy audience members to donate blood, and asked the older, rich tourists to donate money and then he asked everyone in between to donate BOTH…all for the good of Cambodian children.


At first, I thought Beatocello was providing a wonderful service to tourists in exchange for some charity fundraising, but I quickly became aware of the scope of Beatocello’s dedication to Cambodian children that stretches far beyond just a few free concerts. Over the course of several years, he has spearheaded the construction and maintenance of five new children’s hospitals, including a special maternity ward for mothers with HIV.


All the hospital services and administered medications are completely and utterly free of charge. Over 550,000 children would not have survived without these hospitals and the care of Beatocello. He even provides free transportation to and from the hospitals for rural families with ill children. In some cases, the children must stay overnight at the hospital, and of course, Beatocello has ensured that the child and guardian are fed and nursed for free for the duration of the child’s recovery.

If it weren’t for Beatocello, these children wouldn’t stand a chance at recovery.

Before we all forget our New Year resolutions and get wrapped up in the hustle of daily routines all over again, I hope you will take a second to be thankful for the work Beatocello has done for Cambodia, and remember that Winston Churchill said it best: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Beatocello’s dedication to the people of Cambodia is beyond admirable – it just seems like the right thing to do for a country that is eager to repair itself and forget its catastrophic past.

I am adding “Do More Charity Work” to my list of resolutions this year and I hope Beatocello has inspired you to do the same.

For more information on how to make a donation to the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospitals, click here.