Wednesday, 21 January 2015
An emotional first week in Cambodia for Newcastle students
PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: University of Newcastle Nursing Placement
WRITTEN BY: Justine Nicholson and Nikki Smith
What an adventure it has been so far! We arrived safely in Phnom Penh on the night of January 11. Straight to the hotel and I think we were all so tired that none of us realised that Cambodia is left hand drive and we got on the bus on the right side!
We woke up a little jet lagged and headed out for our day trip at 8:30am. We had the pleasure of doing the first part of our tour on a cyclo, which is literally a chair on wheels in front of a bicycle. Being able to look around and take in the city this way was amazing. We went to the palace (right where the king actually lives) and learnt all about Cambodia's past governments and leadership. We went to the national museum and were able to observe the art, Buddha statues and historical items. It was very enlightening to learn about the beliefs within Cambodia's culture.
After this we hopped on a bus and went to lunch at the Friends Restaurant that supports children and adults living on the street by teaching them skills in hospitality. 40 minutes away were the Killing Fields. I don't think any of us were prepared for what we were about to see! There was a building that was full of bones and skulls, weapons and some clothing in glass boxes. The Fields were a shocking experience, as was the Genocide Museum. This was in the main city of Phnom Penh at a place that used to be a school which was turned into a jail during the Khmer Rouge. A lot of the shock came from the fact that we were able to walk straight into rooms used in torture and captivity. A positive was meeting a survivor and showing our respects to him, all getting photos with this incredible man and purchasing his book to understand his story.
The next day was much quieter. We visited the school and refuge to see where we would be operating for the next 5 sessions. The school is incredible. Its founder and manager are inspiring for the work they do here for struggling families and orphaned children of the garbage tip workers here in Cambodia. The school operates for 2 large sessions a day, with classes as large as 80 students! The children are eager to meet us, as we are them, and we can't wait to get started tomorrow! The refuge is unique and an imperative support for children attending the school. It provides a safe sleeping place and home environment, supported by their lessons and regular meal they receive during school days. The organisation is truly incredible. To end the day we had a lesson in the local language, Khmer, and hit the pillow early to rest up for the big day ahead.
At the school we really hit the ground running. Making do with what we had available to us, we set up a makeshift clinic that consisted of several nursing stations. After only an hour to set up the students started filing in. The excitement on their faces as they came through was unbelievable and filled us all with pride for the work we were yet to do.
The last three days has been full on with many emotions ranging from heartbreak, joy and the frustration that comes with working in a low resource environment. But our amazing team have pulled together to make the most of the resources we had. Doing health checks on children, we are finding that there are a lot of the similar problems in this community. Some of the conditions we have commonly encountered are head lice, terrible dental standards, some minor wounds and fungal infections and a lot of dehydration, dietary and bowel issues. This hands-on experience makes us all appreciate the luxuries we take for granted back home such as sanitation and basic health care.