A member of the Work the World team took us to the village in a car straight from the house. It took about an hour and a half and it was a beautifully scenic journey. We stopped at a street food place on the way, as one of my travel companions wanted to try some of the cooked crickets that they served! Eating bugs was a no-go for me.
The village was different to what I expected. I’d set myself up to expect that the local people had nothing at all. I certainly wasn’t expecting to have 4G signal on my phone, and yet there it was!
The village family whose house we stayed in were so accommodating. They didn’t speak English, but because we’d had language lessons in the Work the World house in the weeks prior, we communicated just fine. They were really happy that we made an effort.
The family had a mum, a dad, their 16-year old son, and their daughter, who was 7. Grandpa was there too. They were really close-knit.
I was a bit worried when it came to the food. I’m not a fussy eater, but because the food in the Work the World house was so brilliant I wasn’t sure it’d be up to scratch in the village. But it was brilliant!
The mum’s cooking was so, so good. She taught us some of her recipes too. We learned how to cook banana pancakes, mango pancakes, beef stir fry… you name it.
The clinic we were based in was just a five-minute walk from the house. It was a small health centre with four or five rooms. There was a pharmacist, a midwife, the main doctor, and some other doctors and nurses.
I actually saw more variety in the village clinic than I did in the city hospital. I think this was because patients went to the village clinic first, and were sent to the hospitals only if they needed more sophisticated treatment.
They had hardly any equipment. All they had was a thermometer and a few essentials like stethoscopes and kits to stitch wounds. It was very different from the hospital.
I actually found some things quite challenging from a cultural point of view.
For example, one patient came in saying that she’d been losing strength in her limbs. It was a locally held belief that pregnant women should not walk in the rain for six months after they’d given birth. She thought that this was the cause of her problem, but it was obviously something much more serious.
It was challenging to find ways to communicate—while remaining culturally sensitive—that walking in the rain probably wasn’t the cause of her issue.
In the afternoons, we had the chance to get involved in village life. We walked through the paddy fields and helped ‘Pu’ (Khmer word for ‘uncle’ - it’s what we called the father of the family) with the farming.
We went on an ox cart ride through the village to the abandoned temples, seeing where the monks used to live.
We also cycled to the nearby silk weaving centre, and met a monk who we asked lots of questions about his way of life.
On the Thursday, we walked up the mountain to visit an ancient temple and got blessed by a monk. We also met a fortune teller who told us what our futures had in store!
On our final day, we took a trip to the zoo. The daughter of the family also joined us on this trip and we all had a lovely day.
I was overwhelmed by how accepting and welcoming everyone was in the village, even though there was a language barrier. People went out of their way to welcome us and I didn’t want to leave.
I learned a lot about myself as well. With all my clinical placements at home I feel like communication is my strength, but in Cambodia I was worried about how I was going to communicate. It was a completely different language. But I was impressed with how I adapted to the circumstances.
The Village Healthcare Experience was the best week of my whole trip. Adding it to your placement is crucial if you want to get a deeper insight into the culture and to know what your patients’ lives are like outside of the hospital.