Medical Volunteer in Siem Reap, Cambodia
The hot humidity causes a constant thin layer of sweat on our whole bodies after the sun rises past 9 am. Thunderstorms are a common occurrence at this time of year. Sweeping waves of monsoon rains for short half hour bursts are the only thing that seems to relieve the heat waves, but add to the humidity. We set off early at 7:30am for an half hour tuk tuk ride (a motor bike connected to a 2 passenger trailer), to the east, out of Siem Reap to meet the kids at Savong Orphanage. After getting off the highway, we ride along a dirt road past a local Khmer village made up of 15 or so bamboo straw huts sitting on stilts. We arrive with kids standing on their chairs looking through the wire mesh (as windows) in their simple concrete classroom structure and TV (that’s what his name sounds like), the orphanage coordinator, to greet our arrival. TV gives us a brief tour of the half acre grounds and shows us a fish pond where they are raising 140 fish (a donated project), a small area of brand new mango trees, 2 classrooms, 1 sewing room, 3 dorm rooms (girls dorm room had 4 beds but over 10 girls), a small medical clinic room and a kitchen/eating room. Other than the dorm rooms, every room is open air with metal grate roofing. The children where very excited to see new visitors and we were asked to teach and introduce ourselves to the children.
The children’s age varied from 1-18 years old, the kids over 12 years old could understand some English, but a majority of the smaller kids didn’t understand. Khmer education was made of 4 years of school each day, only teaching Khmer language and math. If they wanted to learn English, the children had to pay for an extra education. Savong, the found of the orphanage also built a school a few miles away, where he provides free education for the local community and any children that want to learn English, Korean, Japanese, or computers. Tourism is one of the largest industries in Siem Reap/Angkor Wat and knowing English is one of the only ways to find a job.
One thing we were surprised to find out was kids who were the height and weight of an 8-10 year old was really 14-16 years old. After an hour of introducing ourselves we introduced Chinese medicine, and the meridian system. They were quite baffled by the whole idea, as the local medicine in Khmer was now based on Western medicine at the hospitals and clinics. We introduced the tuning forks and they were super excited about the whole idea. All the children took to the tuning forks right away and they brought many smiles by listening to the sounds and trying the forks on their friend’s acu-points.
At 2pm, we were tuk tuk-ed over to Savong school, and asked to teach 2hrs of English classes, students ranged from 15 years and older. Many of them were quite enthusiastic with learning how to pronounce, and improve sentence structure, and learning about what North America is like. We did this for 4 days in a row, and then got an opportunity to visit a second orphanage called Rainbow Orphanage 1.5 hours west of Siem Reap.
This orphanage was really off the beaten path, driving down a dirt road for about 45 minutes through rice fields. At one point we got a direct hit of mud water splashed all over our face and torso by a large truck passing us on the narrow 1.5 lane dirt road. Pretty hilarious. When we arrived, we were greeted by the coordinator, and a Californian English teacher who had been living there for the past month. The facilities were beautiful and definitely seemed like a much more well funded orphanage with many facilities that emphasized self sustainability. This orphanage housed about 3 times more orphans and they were quite shy when we first introduced ourselves. When we again introduced Chinese medicine theory and the meridian system they were quite baffled by the idea. Disinfecting wounds and handing out bandages, offering ear seeds, or sound therapy treatments; it was an incredible experience to share the medicine and see results even though there is a language barrier. This orphanage also had a full functional medical clinic in the village, so we decided on the last day we would return to Savong Orphanage to spend our last day with the kids at Savong Orphange and teach at their school.
By the end, Savong kids were completely inspiring, teaching me more about myself than I think I could ever share with them. They climbed on us like we were old friends, and sat on our laps whenever they got a chance. They braided my hair and offered what little they had. Sharing meals with us, even though they only have a $10 budget per month (for 3 meals a day for over 30 children and 3 staff members!). We donated our medical supplies, pencils, notebooks, food funds, and some building materials during our stay, but hopefully we can offer more after we return home.
We returned to Bangkok via the bus. It was a long ride with a speed-demon for a driver. I believe he spent a majority of the trip with the speedometer over 150 km/hr, and spent most of his time driving in the oncoming traffic lane, or on the shoulder! Surprisingly, we sat by a woman from Big Island who is now living in Nepal working to help the street kids in Kathmandu, and she is a cobb builder, too. Small world. Off to China, first stop Kunming.