I participated in the international service-learning project to Cambodia in spring of 2016. The trip was a two-week endeavor to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia. I am not much of a traveler, let alone a world traveler, so needless to say, I was extremely nervous about this venture across the world. Before we headed to Cambodia, we had four meetings with the faculty and all of the students to learn about the culture we were going to be immersed in and to discuss how to prepare mentally and physically to study abroad. Although we were constantly preparing and packing, I did not think I could ever feel fully ready to travel abroad.
While in Cambodia, we attended a school-based clinic in the village of Streung Meanchey, a clinic at Brothers of Charity-Mother Theresa’s Organization, a clinic at a French Canadian Orphanage, and another school based clinic in a remote village. Knowing that Cambodia does not have access to the sort of healthcare that we do in the United States, I was worried that it was going to be very emotional to see the children at these clinics. Although the children we saw in these clinics were not always in the best of conditions, they were filled with a love for life and an all-around happy demeanor. It was extremely uplifting to interact with these children and experience how welcoming they were to a group of American nursing students.
We worked with children ranging from infants to teens in the various locations we visited. At each location, we performed wellness assessments on all of the children. The assessments and well checks were different than they are in the United States because we were relying solely on our assessment skills, not on any technical equipment. We were able to provide medical help ranging from antibiotic cream and a bandage, braces for musculoskeletal issues, or dental referrals for dental carries. Specifically, at the Brothers of Charity Organization, we were assessing and interacting with orphan children with disabilities who were described to us as “the unwanted children” of the community. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see these beautiful, warm-hearted children and think that someone could simply drop them there and never look back. They loved having us there as evidenced by their continuous smiles and simply wanted to play with us. Many of us played hopscotch with the younger children or simply let them pull us around by holding our hands. Just that short, half-a-day interaction made a difference in these children’s lives, and that is what counts.
Although we were there to perform physical wellness assessments, the play therapy that occurred was just as important. Additionally, we all prepared teaching projects in groups of two. We educated the children in the schools and clinics on topics such as hand hygiene and dental hygiene. At each and every clinic the children were enthusiastic to learn from us and implement what we had taught them. After two weeks of amazing experiences immerging ourselves in the culture, interacting with the people, and providing healthcare services, it was time to return home. When we first arrived in Phnom Penh on day one, I wished I was back home, and when it was time to leave, I wanted nothing more than to stay just one more day. It was a bittersweet moment; I was excited to see my family but sad to leave the wonderful people and beautiful country of Cambodia. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my service learning experience. The assessment skills and cultural experience I have gained will help me in all aspects of life, especially in the profession of nursing. I have gained a completely new perspective of my privileges in the United States. Many things here are taken for granted and the trip really opened my eyes to all of the amazing opportunities and goods I am blessed with in my life. It is an unexplainable experience and definitely an opportunity that should be taken advantage of. I hope that I have the opportunity to visit that amazing country again someday.