by Nurse Natalie Donoghue
I ride down the river road which leads to the medical clinic. Along the way the traffic is a weaving sea of motto’s, bicycles, tuk tuks and cars. There is an ordered chaos where everyone seems to know what the other is about to do, there is never any road rage and you rarely see any collisions.
Past the people who are starting their day selling a variety of goods from 1 litre bottles of petrol to fresh sugar cane juice. Past the children scouring for rubbish that can be sold to the recyclers, past the school children and workers. My journey takes me over the bridge, down a dusty narrow road along the river bank through a small village of ramshackle houses embellished by clothes hanging on fences to dry. I ride on past groups of happy naked children playing in the dirt or waving at me as I ride by, their mothers sitting in the shade with babes on their knees.
It is only 7.30 am but I am a lather of perspiration, when finally I turn down the bougainvillea laced laneway and park my bike. Children call out ‘hello teacher’ and smile or they run up to hold your hand looking up at you with their lovely dark brown eyes and innocent faces.
This is the medical clinic where I have come here to volunteer as a registered nurse. Before I left Australia I had read the job description and thought I prepared myself for what I was about to undertake. The role of triaging the patients obtaining a brief history of their current complaint and treating wounds if necessary seemed to be clinically an easy task.
The clinic offers free medical care and medicine to the village in an impoverished area of Siem Reap. There is no government support for these families with many having little or no education and poor employment prospects. Simply earning enough to feed their children is a struggle for many. Their accommodation is sparse with no furniture; they sleep on mats on the wooden floors and cook on simple gas stoves or on open fires.
My role at the clinic is to triage the patients with another Australian Nurse, Vivienne and the clinic Co-ordinator Jody. We communicate via an interpreter and document on the patient’s file. The patient is then seen by the doctor or treated by us.
Even though I have returned home, the memories of working there will stay with me forever. I will remember the 10 year old boy who doubled his 8 year old brother several kilometres to be seen at the clinic. The 8 year old had cut his foot on some metal 4 days earlier and the wound was now infected. The boys were being cared for by their 13 year old brother while their mother had gone to Thailand, the older boy was cooking them rice. Both boys were very dirty so we gave them clean t-shirts, and after dressing the younger boy’s foot they rode off again down the laneway.
The visions of the mothers coming in to receive formula for their babies under the free formula program will stay with me. The mothers are too malnourished to support their babies with breast feeding and even with the formula their growth is well below the rates that you see in our country.
I can still see the gratitude and relief on the face of a young man who blessed Vivienne and I with a blessing normally given to royalty. We had cleaned his badly infected foot and dressed it. Even though he could barely walk he had continued to work as he had no other source of income. We gave him some rice and sauce so that he could stop working and rest his foot.
These images and more have deeply touched me and I have vowed to return for another term. Every day the work that is being down by the volunteers and the Khmer workers is making a difference to many lives, reversing the cycle of poverty and despair that these people would otherwise be trapped in.
Natalie volunteered her time with DocTours Voluntary International Programs.