Today (Thursday, 5/25) was the fourth day of our trip, but with travel was our second full day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia! After spending yesterday exploring the city and learning more about the history, we were going to engage in the community around us through a variety of ways. Following breakfast at the hotel, our group of fifteen split into three different groups. One group went with a Social Worker to do HIV home visits and another group went to a local hospital to assist with check-offs for their staff. The group I was with was six of us going to a local school through the organization Freedom’s Promise. At the school we would be holding a clinic for Well Child Checks.
As we arrived in the area with the school, the van dropped us off across the street and walked through a small street, similar to an alleyway. The bleak reality of these peoples’ living conditions shook me. Small rooms, which consisted of little more than dividing walls and a cover were homes for families. Running water and simply a place for trash were non-existent. After walking along the row of homes, we were then in the area with the school. It consisted of several classrooms, an office, and a library. A teacher directed us to their covered play area with tables and chairs to use for our clinic. Lauren and I, both nursing students, set up to do height, weight, vital signs, and an eye chart. The two Doctorate of Nursing students, Kim and Paige did thorough assessments. Dr. Wolford and Dr. Massie were assisting anywhere and everywhere – from aiding in assessments to helping prescribe to keeping kids entertained as they waited.
A health issue noticed in nearly every child was tooth decay. This may seem somewhat insignificant to us and an easy fix, but for these kids it can be so much more. If further decay occurs, they could end up without teeth or an infection. While the United States has fluorinated water to help prevent this, these children come from families without running water (and Cambodia’s water isn’t drinkable, much less fluorinated). For the most part, brushing their teeth isn’t a priority. A toothbrush here costs $1, which seems insignificant to us. Yet, for many of these families, that is a day’s wages – not to consider the need for toothpaste or the lack of access to clean water. This simple issue made me realize even further how we take so much for granted back at home.
Dr. Wolford, a pediatric nurse practitioner, made an important point at the beginning of the day. She said that “Kids were kids, wherever you go.” This simple statement eased some of the nerves about not speaking the same language, as I found this reminder to be so true. Smiles, laughter, and even many games are so universal. Even if it was after a little misunderstanding, we learned their games as they did cartwheels over a string made with rubber bands. They learned limbo and we played their version of jump rope. As they waited for the next part of the assessment, Lauren and I were taught some of the shapes in Khmer. We sang “Head, Shoulder, Knees, and Toes” and taught some boys how to flip a half full water bottle to make it land correctly and cheered after many attempts for each of us. These kids were full of joy, despite their circumstances and I think that was the most powerful part of the entire experience.