PROGRAM: UniBreak Groups
PROJECT: Nursing, Health Promotion
WRITTEN BY: Amy Bennett, Griffith University
The day had finally arrived! The third and final group of nursing students from Griffith University were ready to travel over 13, 000 km to Laos to conduct health clinics and health education in the villages along the Seaung River Valley. After 10 hours of travel, our group of 16 students and 4 teachers met up with our wonderful guides at Luang Prabang airport where we were packed into tuk tuks and whisked away to our first stop of the trip, where we met up with group B!
We spent the weekend in Luang Prabang relaxing and taking in the sites. Sunday morning saw us packing the tuk tuks and beginning the 4 hour ride to our village homestay, which was nestled right on the river and surrounded by beautiful, lush mountains! We received a warm welcome from the children of the village and the chief who were all overjoyed to see us!
After settling in to our homestays, exploring our home of the next 6 days and working out the squat toilets, it was time to get down to the business of sorting through our clinic items and donation bags, ready to begin our work with villages who have had little or no access to healthcare.
The 5 clinic days saw us learning, educating and delivering basic health care to an overwhelming number of people and experiencing how the majority of the world lives first hand!
The end of week 1 saw us saying goodbye to our village homestay and saying hello to our home in Pak Xeng for the next 5 days. Our home in Pak Xeng saw us delivering clinics and health promotion to a number of remote villages along the river and up into the mountains!
On our first day in Pak Xeng, the team was woken up to the loudest wedding in history! Pak Xeng was bustling with guests and visitors and our team of 20 as we explored the town. The weather, which we were becoming accustomed to, was refreshingly cool in the morning and warm during the day which made for the perfect day to relax and prepare for the next 4 days of clinics. Tuesday was one of our busiest days at clinic with the assessment teams assessing and treating 104 patients and conducting health checks on an unknown number of infants, children and extended family members. Wednesday saw our group travel up into the mountains to reach the villages of Nong Kham, Nad Kham and Houay Wat.
The trip into these villages took over an hour in the mornings, which meant early starts for the group. Although it was early, the drive up into the mountains was amazingly picturesque! We travelled up above the level of the clouds and often caught the sunrise on the way up. The roads and weather proved challenging for our experienced tuk tuk drivers with one breaking down twice on the way up the mountains! These drives up the mountain were when we experienced some seriously cold weather with temperatures nearing single digits! The four clinics saw us assessing, health-checking and treating over 400 local people which was an amazing effort from our team of students, facilitators, interpreters and health care workers!
Our third week began by returning to Pak Xeng after a wonderful 3 days relaxing, shopping and doing the ‘tourist thing’ in Luang Prabang. With two clinics left, the group was beginning to realize it was coming to an end. Monday’s clinic saw us returning to the mountains in bitterly cold weather to the highest village on the trip.
The clinic was conducted in a one-room hall, which was bustling, loud and at times chaotic. The return to Pak Xeng in the mid-afternoon saw the group being invited to Pak Xeng High school to be guests at a cultural event and dance. The students graciously danced with us and taught us a number of Lao dances. The night also saw our group singing and dancing for the students with our rendition of the national anthem and the Macarena.
We returned to the high school the next day, with half of our group conducting sexual education sessions, and the remaining students conducting the clinics. Before we began, we were welcomed by the students, teachers and the director of Pak Xeng high school. We were presented with certificates of appreciation and in turn, we presented the students with three donation bags for the students who spend the week living in the ‘dormitory’ accommodation at the school.