Saturday, 30 January 2016

Saying Thank You and Goodbye to Cambodia

COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROJECT: Murdoch Nursing
WRITTEN BY: Melissa Williams

As we sit and wait to be transported to the airport to return home to our beautiful families, we have one final opportunity to reflect on our week. Though our journey has come to an end in this beautiful country, the sights and sounds of Siem Reap and the experiences – both therapeutic and personal that we have had – will never be far from any of our hearts.

After a busy week the majority of the group took off out of town last weekend to a beautiful countryside town known as Battambang. Battambang is situated in the north-western corner of Cambodia. It is well known for its laid back, quiet ambience and the beautiful French influences that adorn it. Battambang was once the leading rice-producing province of the country. The 100,000-person town now offers not only one of the best-preserved examples of the French Colonial era, but also the small-town feel you expect to encounter in Cambodia. Battambang was part of Siam for many centuries and was used as its eastern commercial hub. It was this French influence that left a strong mark on the town's architecture, resulting in a pleasing colonial effect. The town is the gateway between Thailand and Phnom Penh but still retains a sleepy atmosphere. Whilst in Battambang, the team enjoyed fine dining at the top restaurant in town and rode on the acclaimed Bamboo Train (daredevils in the making).

The few that stayed behind in Siem Reap also took off for the day out of town on an overland tuk tuk journey. We headed out towards Banteay Srei, with the beautiful temples as our backdrop where we encountered the Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre (BBC). This is a conservation project that consists of the largest fully enclosed butterfly centre in Southeast Asia, and claims to have more than 30 species of Cambodian butterflies fluttering about. You are able to see the whole process from egg to caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly. The project aims to help provide a sustainable way of living for the some of the poorer rural population. BBC provides training for farmers from villages in the Siem Reap Province to farm native species of butterflies. This training also provides the farmers with a vital botanical knowledge of their surrounding area and an awareness of the importance of conserving natural habitats.

Following the visit to the butterflies, we were tuk tuk’d onto the Cambodian Landmine Museum where we learnt more about the atrocities that have occurred in this country less than 50 years ago that continue to shape this country to this day. This place and what it stands to achieve and in fact has achieved is amazing. Aki Ra, a gentleman who was suppressed into the Khmer Rouge Army as a child soldier when he was 10 years old, founded the place. He went on to fight the wars that engulfed his country for a further 35 years. As part of the fighting landmines were planted in the villages of Cambodia – many by Aki Ra himself. It was when the fighting ended he pledged to return to the villages and remove the devices himself by hand using homemade tools. It was here that the damage became blatantly apparent as many very poor children who had been wounded or orphaned by landmines confronted him. As a result he created the relief centre for these kids that provided and still provides education and offers a safe place for children today.

Following our wonderful weekend of new experiences, we set off for our final week of our practicum. The group once again split into our two groups with one group primarily spending time at the clinic and one at the hospital. By this stage we had become familiar with the surrounds of both locations, and felt confident enough to get stuck in and do our work.

The patient’s (and their kids) at the hospital in particular were becoming increasingly familiar to us, as had our constant requests to enter their rooms and complete a myriad of assessments. I am sure I speak for many when I say we will never forget this hospital and the very different practice protocols that exist between their way and ours, as well of some of the wonderful patients whom we treated and their beautiful families.

At the clinic we continued to assess as many patients that we could as they stepped foot across the threshold. In particular to the clinic we were able to assess A LOT of children for things such as respiratory illness and eye infections, as well as conduct age appropriate assessments. This may sound easy, but if you have ever tried to listen to a child’s chest, or look down a child’s throat when they are crying, you will understand when I say this was no easy feat! These situations certainly gave us the opportunity to put our therapeutic interaction skills to work – sometimes we were successful in gaining their trust and co-operation and were able to complete there related assessments, and occasionally we had to accept defeat – and go to lunch.

Did I mention the Cambodians have a very longggggg lunch hour (or two)? As our last week was coming to an end some of us were starting to question what on earth we were going to do when we were no longer provided a four plate choice, plus dessert selection for lunch once our sojourn here ended – never mind having to return home and resume our role of ‘masterchef extraordinaire’ in our own kitchens! Plus how could we return to a lunch break of a measly 30 minutes … in my humble opinion the Cambodian’s win hands down on this way of life!

This week we also had a thank you and farewell dinner with both facilities that accommodated us during our practicum. It was a lovely evening under the stars, where our wonderful preceptors, translators, directors of the hospital and nurses from the clinic accompanied us. On this evening we were able to present each facility with a departure gift to show our appreciation for having us. Through our fundraising efforts we were fortunate enough to be able to provide the clinic with a new maternity bed, and for the hospital we were able to purchase a vast array of medications and other supplies that will make a significant contribution to the supplies that are currently available at the facility. This was our way of saying thank you!

So after our extremely busy week finishing our portfolios, saying good-bye and just generally having a good old time, our three weeks here was over and it was time to pack our bags. For most of us, this was no easy feet as we tried to jam everything back into what seemed like shrunken suitcases (surely we didn’t buy that much – after all weren’t we here to work – not shop). This led to some frantic scenes at the airport, where we shuffled bags and belongings here, there and everywhere trying to avoid paying excess baggage. Thankfully we all managed to escape the hefty fees and nothing had to be left behind.

Needless to say our strengthened teamwork, communication and negotiation skills worked a treat in this situation.

Or kun and lea heiy (thank you and goodbye)

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