The following is a blog written by Beth Goodwin who volunteered with Anne McCormick in Cambodia for a month. Here she shares her reflections from her time with Anne. The original blog can be read here (and includes many more photos).
The World Mate Emergency Hospital in Battambang – this is where I’ve been for most of the last month [ending in April], helping Anne McCormick with her activities programme. It’s a lovely hospital, with restful greenery and bougainvillaea gardens. There are two big wards of about 32 beds each, one for men, one for women and children. Then an infection ward, and ICU, plus a few rooms for private patients. The main cases that come here are amputees and broken bones. Cambodia still struggles with unexploded landmines, so there are more amputees. It wasn’t too gory, mostly things were nicely bandaged up.
It’s a Japanese funded hospital (Handa Foundation) – though minimally. There are a few expat staff in there, which apparently means fewer mis-diagnoses, because their qualifications were most probably a lot more in-depth, their degrees earned not purchased. Cambodia is still suffering significantly from the Pol Pot regime, and education has a long way still to go.
Nurses didn’t seem to have much to do! Surprisingly. Same as restaurant staff. How do we find so much to do in New Zealand. Surely there are the same tasks? Nurses here were usually congregated at the end of the ward, on their phones. They blocked facebook on staff wifi for obvious reasons. But the ward was clean, wounds dressed, nobody died last month (I think). Maybe there’s less paperwork and peer pressure. They get US$1 an hour. Rent is upwards from about $50 per month as far as I can tell. I find myself thinking, well, if you’re in a DINK situation, that’s just enough for eating, maybe, you can survive. But then, all it takes is one emergency, a broken leg, a stolen motorcycle/bicycle, a funeral or wedding. What then? Not to mention kids at school, needing clothes etc. It’s tough.
Every patient at the hospital had a family member or a friend there 24/7 to help them with bathroom tasks, food etc. Its tough on the family member if they had to stop work! They sleep on the floor by the patients’ beds, but apparently they’d mostly sleep on a mat on the floor at home anyway, so its no different.
Anthony & Anne – so lovely to stay with a kiwi couple. They have been so kind, helping me with how to get around, lots of lifts, some ice-creams, and the loan of some useful items like a kettle and chilly bin to help when I moved into a guesthouse in town. Thank you both.
Anthony’s role there has been to start a Social Work department. This has had challenges, since social work isn’t really a ‘thing’ in Cambodia. It is now! I don’t know too much about what’s involved, but it’s such a helpful and necessary gap being filled! He’s been training up a fantastic team, who have benefited from all his NZ Social work training and experience. The department is practically running itself now, which is a huge achievement. It’s the funny role of most mission work – to make yourself redundant. I’ve so enjoyed Anthony’s humour, good sense, cheeky grin, and strong faith.
I’ve spent most of the time with Anne with her activities program at the hospital. I’m so impressed that she’s built it up so much over the years. There’s now a room with cupboards, heaps of books and resources, and one paid staff member to help. A few years ago, it had no walls even. I can’t imagine it with no aircon, and no cupboards to lock, trolleys to push etc. Thanks to all overseas suppliers and fundraisers of good things.
Anne is a librarian by trade, so unsurprisingly, everything works highly efficiently, and is well-categorised, numbered and labelled. She used to lend the books out for a few days at a time, but found many were going missing, hence the trolley system. It takes 1-1.5 hours to take the books round in the morning, let them choose, write down the number. They are collected after 4pm. Patients definitely perk up when the books and puzzles trolleys come round. We do games in the afternoons 1-3 times a week.
You might think it doesn’t sound like much, taking round books and puzzles. From a western perspective, maybe it seems unnecessary. But here, when there are no libraries and games are unaffordable, it’s a huge blessing to have these things to pass the time, get your thinking away from your pain, and also it helps bonding between patients and their family caregivers. It’s helping them to heal faster, I reckon. Plus, they get to know Anne and Sokhim, and often will share struggles. It’s easier talk to the ones with the books than the ones with the needles…
I would really have loved to get to know the patients more. There’s time to banter with them, ask them how the day’s going, how they enjoyed the book, what sort they’d like next, what they do for a job, how they broke their arm, the list goes on. I felt very restricted by the language barrier. I managed a few stock phrases by the end, but that’s not enough. If I do decide to stay overseas longterm, language is top priority – I didn’t realise just how vital it really is.
It was heartbreaking to see adults and children needing to be shown what a puzzle is, how you do it. They all loved them once they got going, but didn’t have the reflexes of looking for matching colours, straight edge pieces, and matching the puzzle to the picture. It’s just practice. Reminds me of me trying to play a computer game last year. My flatmates challenged me to ‘judge not’ without trying them. So I tried a few for the experience. They were fairly patient with me, but I could see the frustration – can’t she see, the score’s right there, so’s the map, so’s the treasure count or whatever, she’s going right into the danger zone! From my perspective, I found it took all my concentration to focus on one part of the screen, and try to walk and not to get eaten (which I never managed to avoid). I didn’t have the visual clues and trillions of hours of practice.
I began to wonder, all these things we take for granted like puzzles, are they all actually learning tools? Learning not only colour matching, and little pieces forming a whole picture, but even critical thinking. The thought processes of – what if I turn this round, will it fit? Critical thinking is hugely important in life (in my opinion), and I just started to wonder if it’s taught in more subtle ways than we think, like through puzzles, for instance.
Probably my favourite day was when we realised some of them were saying no to books because they couldn’t read. I am beginning to realise Anne has everything! She even has a box of pairs of cheap long-sighted glasses, which we brought out, and they were SO happy! The laughter and disbelief of suddenly being able to see clearly and read again! Their kids found it hilarious too, watching their mums suddenly sporting a pair of glasses.
My most terrifying day was the last day, when I played some viola to two of the wards. I really, really don’t enjoy playing solo to people. I’m a viola player for goodness sake, which is a group harmony instrument, gregarious even, enjoys safety in numbers. I don’t even like practicing when anyone’s in the house! I have learned to play with 4 pegs on my bridge to dampen the sound somewhat. BUT, I am here for reasons other than just what I feel like doing, and I thought it might be fun for them, you definitely don’t see violas every day here. So, I braced myself, and played some appalling renditions of Bach suites and Monti’s Czardas. Thankfully, I have no idea what they thought – language barriers have positive moments, too. Some of the kids enjoyed trying it afterwards.
We made paper! To buy more books, expand the activities for the patients, Anne has been making paper to sell, and to make into cards and books. The paper is made with a machine built by Mark Lander in Amberley, Christchurch (see http://marklander.org/hollander-beaters). It works like a dream, on paper, cloth, and natural fibres. After home attempts with substandard equipment in my childhood, I was so impressed at how Anne and Sokhim managed to easily do 50 large A3 sheets of beautiful paper in a day. Sure, the occasional one wrinkled, but by and large they were all beautiful!