Day Five: Wrap Up

Dawn greets us. The team is shipped off to do vaccinations, and the doctors of the trip painstakingly teach the non-clinicals and other students who have not injected real people intramuscularly by using each other as testing pincushions.

The year 1s and 2s vaccinate for the first time, and there are exultant smiles all around. We did it!

The Obrum team returns from their trip to one of the furthest villages on the list, with roads bumpy enough to send students reeling. We learn how to sculpt balloons for the children, and the classroom is soon filled with dogs, snakes, swans, hats, octopi and every object imaginable carefully crafted from rubber balloons. We sing and we dance. We decorate the paper fish. And of course, we teach them how to wash their hands and brush their teeth.

Lunch is at the school. Pleased, we watch them wash their hands.

The afternoon lazes, and both groups find spots at cozy cafes to sip some coconut or other cold drink. At 5 we return for reflections and wrap-up, and the entire medical team is shipped off for one last dinner together in a restaurant infested by every manner of insect, but otherwise a place that sold delicious food.

For once, there is no more medical packing and preparation to be done. Only packing for the 4 hour bus ride back to Siem Reap tomorrow at 9 am. Many will be flying tomorrow, or the day after, but the team of SMSV will be staying for a while yet just for some rest and recreation.

 

Thank you for following the SMSV Cambodia journey! The mission has now concluded, and we will see everybody back in Singapore by Tuesday the 15th of December!

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Day Four: the penultimate and the party

Day four dawns and the team is shipped to the clinic. Every day, however, three medical students are sent to join the Obrum Team.

‘Obrum’ is Khmer for education. The local Cambodian chapter of Obrum allows six medical students and three permanent members of the team to visit far off or poor schools and villages to hand out love packages of rice and other essentials and to interact and teach the young children of rural Cambodia. It’s hard work beneath the scorching sun and lugging 50kg bags of rice. Strength has failed, but only temporarily, and we carry on.

This particular day, Obrum visits a village school built on stilts. It is the highest building in the vicinity, and where everybody takes shelter in times of flood. Life is hard here, with poor harvests following droughts and danger following heavy rain. The locals live in sheds and dine on whatever the season brings, be it fish, rats, or even snakes. The children play between the stilts. The babies are unclothed. It is natural here, the member of the local Obrum explains.

The children are given brief talks on hand and dental hygiene, but whether compliance follows is another issue for their poverty is a barrier to the barest of essentials that we, the privileged, do not even notice we possess. The fun part is the song and dance, and the gifting of goodie bags. Santa Claus, Brother Nick jokes. But the children adore the presents, and the gifts, and their parents give thanks for the food and condiments given.

The sun burns. After lunch, the Obrum team returns to the meeting point where we are asked to unclog the drains. It is a hard day of physical labour, but the drains are spotless just in time for the party.

The local Cambodians perform. One by one, each act passes by. Hearts race, sweat beads. We haven’t practiced since yesterday. The medical team rolls in just in time for the photoshoot, and one thing after another and we’re there.

The stage beckons. We perform.

Day Three: Vaccination

Scheduled to vaccinate 500 people, but we don’t have syringes.

That’s all right. Send a medical student to hop on the back of a motorcycle and off we go to buy boxes and boxes of supplies! Motorcycle returns in the midst of clinic.

A good break since yesterday ran us ragged. Only a hundred or so patients, and many, many to vaccinate. Brave adults, frightened adults, stoic children and crying wrecks that had to be persuaded for half an hour. But all in a day’s work, resulting in more injections than we’ve ever done in our lives and in hospital, and so many children vaccinated from the perils of Hepatitis B.

But that’s on the clinical side.

Things take a wilder turn for the year 1s, whom were sent to the wrong location, for the wrong talk, and had to salvage the situation. Quick-thinking and resourceful, one managed to scrum up an hour’s talk with a translator to save the day while the other ran from location to location and was constantly on the phone with different people. Not much was in place, but they certainly had an afternoon to remember!

It’s clinic again tomorrow. Two more days. One more day to performance night! We dance and sing the night away until the clock passes the tick of midnight. Oh dear.

Day Two: Nikhum

The clinic of Nikhum explodes with folk even before we arrive. They just keep arriving in an exhausting line. The translators shout themselves hoarse to keep order, and the day is punctuated by arguments and jostling by irate townsfolk when they felt like their queues had been jumped. Everybody slogs.

Pharmacy clogs. Villagers are caught lining up again to retrieve double doses of medication. They step over the chalk line. The translators agonise. Everyone runs.

Lunch time is in shifts. While one relaxes, another quails beneath the weight.

But lunch is superb as always, cooked and served in a school a 5 minute drive away. While the clinic toils, swift vaccinations are done on the kindergardeners. Surprisingly, only a handful cry. The rest take the pain with stoic courage, or even with a smile. The resilience of the Cambodian children is inspiring.

When work is finally over, everyone piles into the bus. More than 300 patients have crossed our paths today in a nonstop line. Everyone pats each other on the back. We did it.

But there are three more days to go.

Day One: Pai Lin

The buses are waiting. Oh no, we’re late! Rush, rush, rush, then back in the bus. Sleep and snooze till we reach the town of Pai Lin, and then work is ready to commence!

One triage with a professional A&E nurse, one Biometric booth with fingerprints to be scanned, two GP stations, an eye station, a surgical station, and a chaotic pharmacy with a registered nurse. In any other hands it would be chaos, but the presence of all these professionals calm us even as order breaks down.

A man with skin lumps, a man with a cataract, a child with pneumonia and many, many more townsfolk with gastritis and children with URTIs. Cough syrup and omeprazole disseminates like gossip.

We break for lunch; a splendid lunch of pork ribs and chicken drumsticks and so many more. We are so grateful in our hunger and fatigue. The townsfolk are lining up and waiting, so we return.

The pharmacy soon crowds with people. The confused search for that elusive medication. As soon as the crowd goes, the lost medication reappears like a rabbit out of a hat.

The crowd is plentiful, but not as overwhelming as we feared. Tomorrow, we head to the town of Nikhum. We hear from the other groups that Nikhum is twice as overwhelming, and the patients number so much more. Anxious, but excited.

Dinner is prepared by the people of ACTs, and tastes too much like home. We celebrate Karthiga’s birthday at a little cafe called Home with ice cream and frappes aplenty. Time is ticking. 4 days until our performance for everybody. We have a plan: after much laughter and many mistakes, we have something of a foundation.

We bed down for the night.

Recce Trip!

After a hearty breakfast and a laughter-filled dance practice in the scorching Cambodian sunlight, the team split up for some recce’ing. A 2 hour bus ride to the distant town of Pai Lin where we convened at a church for a special lunch prepared.

After that, the team was led on an excursion walk around the neighbourhood, where we met neighbours with cornfields and wooden houses on stilts. The children play in droves, and the babies are rocked in hammocks. With football and slurpies, the team makes as much as an impression on the neighbours as they do on us!

Mass was held before everyone returned to the hotel for a fried rice dinner. The night was spent sorting out medications for the next 5 days: gulp! But we get ready for a good night’s rest. Breakfast is at 6:45 am, and the bus leaves at 7:15.

Villagers await us!

Touchdown!

At 9:50 am in the morning, the plane landed in Siem Reap. The team hopped on a bus and began the 4 hour bus ride to the town of Battambang.

Checked in and ready, the team prepares for bed. There is breakfast tomorrow, and a day of preparation for the week ahead!

Good feelings, feeling good.