Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Final Bittersweet days in Cambodia

After a fantastic break in Siem Reap, everyone returned to Phnom Penh ready to complete the last week of clinic to the best of their ability. With only two days remaining at the PIO school and with many students feeling unwell or run down, we really had to come together as a team to complete as many students as possible in our short time. At the completion of our week at PIO, we had seen over 280 students.

It was incredible to see the fantastic effects of SDF (silver fluoride) during this time, with the students who were in year 3 or above, having minimal caries and evident areas of arrested caries as a result of their six monthly fluoride applications and regular screening. It was so encouraging to see that the efforts of the One2One charitable trust and Dr. Bethy’s PhD research was really benefiting the children in this area and those attending PIO.

To complete our placement at the school, each child was provided with a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap. As we handed these out through several classes, the children were overjoyed to be receiving something that they could call their own. It was a sad goodbye on this day, as we had all began really enjoying visiting the beautiful children who attended PIO.

The following day we began our three-day rural placement. Once again the Phnom Penh traffic was a huge shock to us, as it took 2 hours to travel just 40kms to ‘Le Refuge’ in Oudong. 

The bus arrived at a beautiful garden, where children were playing on the grass or on the playground. We were greeted by Dr Saram, the founder of ‘Le Refuge’, who gave us a tour and explained to us how the place began. Dr Saram lost his wife and children during the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 80’s, he was shot in the neck as he made his escape to the Thailand border. He miraculously survived and migrated to France, where he studied to become a heart surgeon. After living in France for some time, Dr Saram returned to his home nation to give back to his people. He moved to Phnom Penh and started working in a hospital, before noticing that many of his patients were from the region of Oudong. This motivated him to open an out-patient clinic in Oudong, so his patients did not have to stay in Phnom Penh far away from their families and homes during their recovery time.

With funding from his friends and colleagues in France, he continued expanding ‘Le Refuge’ to house up to 25 children who did not have parents or whose parents had moved for work. He provides these children with shelter, clothing, education and food. He also provides every child in Oudong lunch three times a week. 

Through the ten years of ‘Le Refuge’ it had expanded to also include a dental clinic and optometry clinic. As dentists from Phnom Penh only regularly visit on weekends to volunteer at ‘Le Refuge’ the children were rarely seen, as they would be working or helping their parents. Dr Saram’s story was truly inspirational, and we all felt motivated to see the children of Oudong as they had no access to dental care.

The next three days we screened 80 children at ‘Le Refuge’, providing fluoride applications and fissure sealants. It was quite challenging, with so many children to see in only three days, we really had to come together as a team to practice efficiently in this fast paced clinic with minimal supplies. 
Days were long, having 11 hour days from the time we would leave the hotel to the time we would return home, and our energy levels were running low, however our motivation was high. Knowing these children’s access to care was rare, we all came together to help each other and work harder when students were unwell. It did become overwhelming at stages, when we couldn’t address the child’s immediate needs, such as pain. With the healing process being delayed due to the humidity, deciduous teeth would not be extracted unless it was necessary. While also focusing on long term preventive treatment, it did not provide us with that immediate reward. However, having applied over 200 fissure sealants and fluoride applications at Oudong, it was reassuring to know that we potentially saved 100’s of permanent teeth for the children in this area. 

After our final day at Oudong on Friday, we travelled to our Farewell dinner at FCC, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Tonlé Sap and Mekong rivers. We shared a three course meal with three of the dental students that helped us throughout our Antipodeans placement and with our in-country partner Linda. We all exchanged gifts during our meals and exchanged stories of our experiences throughout the two and a half weeks together. It was a fantastic evening and a bittersweet end to an amazing trip.

We were all excited to head home to our families and friends but we were also very upset that the amazing experience was coming to an end. It was reassuring to know that we accomplished so much in our time in Cambodia and made a difference to almost 400 children’s lives. 18 days had flown past so quickly but it was incredible how many experiences we squeezed into our short time in Cambodia.

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