Nicolle Healy, ACU Melbourne Nursing/Paramedicine Student.
"As part of my degree at ACU I recently took part in a community engagement program in Cambodia called Health for Happiness, which is an initiative of ACU's Institute for Advancing Community Engagement (IACE) and Challenges Abroad Australia (CAA).
The aim of the program is to promote routine health procedures and to teach basic hygiene skills to reduce illness and disease in Cambodia's Battambang region. International aid work is something I hope to do when I finish my degree so this was the perfect opportunity to gain a real sense of the healthcare system in a developing country.
There were 10 ACU nursing and paramedicine students on the trip and the study component was supervised by Associate Professor Thomas Harding.
We volunteered in a variety of health clinics in the local community where we had the opportunity to work alongside doctors and nurses to assess patients with mental health issues, administer immunisations and observe prenatal care.
Health care can be difficult to access in Cambodia. We performed basic health checks with both children and adults – looking at their heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, weight and height. Many of the patients were presenting with medical issues which required far more assistance than we were equipped to provide, which was frustrating at times.
The most confronting aspect of the trip was witnessing so many children in poverty. Many had been abandoned by their parents who had mainly left for Thailand to find work. It was not rare to see children wearing dirty oversized clothes, or no clothes at all. It made me sad and I couldn't help but contemplate their future.
Having Associate Professor Harding with us made the Cambodia experience both educational and fun. He played an instrumental role in teaching us the necessary skills to help overcome the language barrier between English and Khmer (local language). He was constantly quizzing us and prompting us to ensure we were gaining adequate knowledge. I love the way he recognised us as capable undergraduate clinicians and pushed us to make the most of the experience.
We also had the opportunity to assist at a local organisation called Children's Action for Development (CAD), which provides Khmer and English literacy classes to orphans, disadvantaged children and families. We ran sessions there with a focus on teaching young children basic hygiene skills such as hand washing, tooth brushing and hair washing. At one of the CAD centres more than 50 children were all sharing the one drinking cup. This was a major issue as it cultivated the transmission of germs between children. It was great to be able to use the money in our budget to buy each child their own cup. It was a small gesture on our part, but I'll never forget how grateful, appreciative and happy they were to receive something that in Australia we just take for granted.
Most of the children we came across had head lice, which was no surprise as this is a major health concern in Cambodia. We tried our best to make the treatment as fun as possible by creating silly hairstyles as we washed and combed the children's hair. The kids loved it and I won't forget the smiles on their faces any time soon.
On our last day in Cambodia we visited the killing caves of Phnom Sampeau, which is 11 km south west of Battambang. It was shocking to find out that people had been bludgeoned to death and tossed into the caves during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. This experience really opened my eyes to the pain and suffering that the people of Cambodia are still struggling to overcome."