To complement the MASSAGE Magazine News article, “Orphans Blossom with Massage,” by Karen Menehan, in the March 2012 issue. Article summary: Although there is relative peace in Cambodia today, decades of civil war and strife contributed to it becoming one of the world’s poorest countries. The challenges faced by Cambodians, particularly the country’s children, inspired massage therapist Les May to created Buds to Blossoms, an organization that takes teams of massage therapists into a rural Cambodian orphanage to provide children and their caregivers with healthy touch.

by Karen Menehan

MASSAGE Magazine: Where has funding for Buds to Blossoms come from?

Les May: Buds to Blossoms has been very fortunate to have the support of many donors who see the value of this work and help make it possible for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to make this trip. One of our important donors is Esalen Institute; they came to the conclusion the work that we’re doing really embodies one of the things that Esalen is trying to do in the world.

Esalen is world famous for its style and quality of massage work and also for advancing the possibilities of human potential, and they feel this really advances the values of the institute. Ken and Maddy Dychtwald gave the donation to Esalen [for Buds to Blossoms].

MM: Tell me more about what the trip to Cambodia is like for the massage therapists who volunteer with Buds to Blossoms.

LM: On each trip, between four and one dozen volunteers work for one to two weeks providing gentle massage and nurturing attention to 250 children with HIV and AIDS and their adult caregivers. The volunteers work and live as members of the community, providing gentle massage and nurturing attention to the children to foster their health, well-being and development.

MM: Are some of the children quite ill?

LM: Some of them are in the advanced stages of AIDS. Some of those new arrivals have severe infections as a result of their immune systems being compromised; they’ve got open sores on their hands and limbs; they can be really stressed out from having witnessed the death of their parents from AIDS; or have been abandoned by relatives who didn’t want to take care of them after their parents died. Some have been rescued from poverty or slavery.

Almost all these kids are on antiviral medications, which help reduce the amount and activity of the virus in their bloodstream. But some are getting resistant to the drugs. And there are only two lines of these drugs available to these kids generically in Cambodia. Some of them just aren’t getting better on the drugs, some kids are struggling.

MM: Why did you choose to work in Cambodia?

LM: It’s one of the poorest countries in the world. Resources are being moved around to places with higher rates of HIV infection, like Africa, instead of resources being increased. The orphanage where we work is going to lose a quarter of its budget this year.

[Before beginning Buds to Blossoms] I joined a volunteer program that included a visit to this particular orphanage. There are a limited number of opportunities to do work at orphanages around the world, and this came up as an obvious place that’s really well run. It’s a very well-managed orphanage and the quality of life is high compared to other orphanages around the world—and they still need a lot of help.

MM: What can you tell massage therapists who want to do humanitarian work, but who might not want to travel overseas?

LM: We can work in the states, developing countries or help the folks in our communities. We have the capacity to make a difference for people in the world in dire situations—that’s great work.

MM: Why do you have such passion for working with children?

LM: Kids show such a rapid and dramatic response to this work, and they’re also most at risk for the problems that come from not getting enough touch—particularly kids not in the care of their birth parents. We can make such a difference in their lives, [and] they can make such rapid recoveries. It’s really an opportunity to change lives.

Buds to Blossoms’ next trip to Cambodia is in late April 2012. For more information, to volunteer or to donate, visit

—Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine‘s editor in chief.