In 2017 we had the pleasure of supporting Laura, an occupational therapist looking to both challenge herself and give back. Volunteering as a therapist in rural Cambodia, and operating largely as an independent volunteer, was always going to be a challenge but also proved to be an immensely rewarding experience that we were very proud to support. “Laura… you went the extra mile!”
“I absolutely loved my experience in Prey Veng, volunteering as an occupational therapist. I was able to live as part of the local community, living and working with local people and feel like I was able to develop an understanding of this beautiful country.
They have such a sad recent history but the people are all amazingly kind and caring and generous. There is still such a high level of poverty and more access to education and health care is needed, so I met a lot of people with issues that I just haven’t come across in the UK before.
I worked with a 4 year old boy who lost his leg in an accident with farming machinery; his family had to work so hadn’t been able to supervise him.
I worked with children who were not reaching developmental milestones but once I started to work with them and educating the families the children would start to develop, and I think the problems had simply come down to parents not being aware of how to support the child’s development because they didn’t have access to the right information.
It was challenging at times but such a rewarding experience and I would love to return to Cambodia again in the future. I met such wonderful people who made me feel so welcome and who loved having the chance to improve their English by talking to me and learning about where I come from”. Laura (UK)
Read Laura’s evaluation of her placement and support below
I found the process very useful and helped me find a project I was happy with. I liked that the interview was quite detailed in terms of what I wanted or didn’t want and my previous work and travel experience. I was very happy that there was a project that seemed to be exactly what I had been looking for.
I found all the information and support very useful in helping me prepare for the trip. I certainly felt that I was sufficiently prepared.
Nimol was fantastic; she does much more than I think her role requires her to do and very quickly she felt like a friend. She was amazing helping me to settle into Phnom Penh initially, giving me a tour of the city and taking me to the rehab centre on my first day.
She also travelled with me to Prey Veng when I first moved there. I was always able to contact her when I needed to and she did her best to help when it with anything I needed.
The only issue I had was not actually her fault but she has a contact who she has used in the past for Khmer lessons and visa extensions. Unfortunately this contact proved very unreliable with me. I would not recommend using him again
I spent the first week in a hotel in Phnom Penh which was very clean and comfortable. The remainder of the time I lived in the team house in Prey Veng.
I was expecting the facilities there to be fairly basic so was not too shocked when I got there. I lived with other staff from the rehabilitation centre and they were all very friendly and supportive.
I had my own room and shared a bathroom with the four others. I think it was worth staying in the team house because it helped me to integrate. There was a kitchen in the house but no fixed cooking facilities (just a small camping stove) so I didn’t cook.
Although meals were not officially provided I was able to eat most days at the other team house, where Mr Hour has arranged to have a cook for the disabled volunteers who live there.
He has received funding from the government to pay for a cook there and was happy for me to eat with everyone, I did leave a contribution towards the meals when I left. The food at the team house was simple but tasty (and clean) Khmer food. I also ate at a few different places in the market and around town, there are certainly enough places to choose from.
I felt safe throughout. Everyone in Prey Veng was so good to me and I felt very well looked after. Having the local mobile phone provided was very useful for keeping in touch with everyone to let them know where I was and if I needed picked up from somewhere, which they were always willing to do.
I worked mainly in the (rural) rehabilitation centre in Prey Veng. It was useful to spend my first week at the centre in Phnom Penh learning a bit about the type of clinical work that they do. There were more staff in Phnom Penh and it seemed to be a better resourced centre than in Prey Veng.
I had been expecting to work with physiotherpists in Prey Veng but unfortunately they had resigned not long before I arrived. This meant I was the only therapist working in the centre.
There were about 15 staff at the centre in Prey Veng including Prosthetist and Orthotists, support workers, admin staff, an accountant and the manager Mr Hour.
At the centre patients come to be treated for a wide range of physical conditions, either for rehabilitation or for provision of a custom made prosthetic or orthotic device. There is also a community team which go to visit patients at home to provide ramps, wheelchairs etc. and also for rehabilitation for patients who are unable to travel to the centre.
I got the impression that in Phnom Penh they are used to having a lot of volunteers coming through and although the physiotherapist I worked with was very welcoming and supportive the others didn’t seem that interested in getting to know me, but as I was only there for a week this wasn’t an issue.
In Prey Veng they have far fewer volunteers so they seem to get very excited when they do get a volunteer and they were incredibly welcoming. I couldn’t have asked to get to know a nicer group of people than everyone in Prey Veng.
As an occupational therapist I had some issues initially as they didn’t understand my role and expected me to do all the jobs a physiotherapist would do so it took some time to help them understand what I could do.
I think the centre in Prey Veng does a fantastic job of supporting people with physical disabilities to become more integrated into their communities. Mr Hour in particular works tirelessly to make sure that disabled people are getting the support they need and that they have opportunities for education and work.
They have pretty limited resources but I think they have still been managing to provide a great service. Unfortunately there seemed to be issues with replacing the physiotherapy staff who had left and that meant that when I left there was going to be nobody to carry on seeing the patients that I had been working with which was a real shame.
There is an associated organisation in Prey Veng, also run by Mr Hour. This a fantastic project supporting people with disabilities to access education, vocational training and also for them to give back to their communities by teaching English and computer skills to children in rural villages.
A lot of my time in Prey Veng was spent getting involved in the work of the FDF, teaching English to the disabled volunteers as well as to the children in the local villages.
I worked at the rehabilitation centre 7.30am – 4.30pm Monday to Friday. The day started with a staff meeting every day. As this meeting was carried out in Khmer I would sometimes use this time to get on with other tasks, such as working on the FDF website which Mr Hour had asked for my help with.
I would then spend the remainder of the day in the treatment room where patients would arrive throughout the day. Some patients would be booked in with appointment (although no time was specified) but mostly they would be turning up without appointments, I would have to try to keep track of who had arrived in what order and work through their treatments until they were all done.
Some days at the start of my time in Prey Veng were very quiet as it was coming up to Khmer New Year which is their biggest annual holiday, and because there had been no physiotherapist in post.
As my time there went on the days got much busier and I would generally spend the whole day working with patients, sometimes seeing the same patients from the morning again in the afternoon for further treatment.
After work I would go to team house girl where the disabled volunteers had asked me to help them with their English, so from 5-6pm I would teach English there. I would then get dinner at team house.
The majority of the patients were children but I also worked with adults with amputations and back pain. I would deliver rehabilitation and teach patients and family members home exercise programmes.
Other staff from the centre would help with translation when I needed it, particularly for assessment of new patients, but for most of my treatment sessions I would get by with non-verbal communication.
I was responsible for keeping track of all the patients that arrived for treatment each day, documenting what I had done, booking them in for future appointments and liaising with the prosthetics and orthotics team when I thought a device might be needed.
I would seek help from Mr Hour or other members of the team when I needed it but most of the day I would be working on my own in the treatment room.
I also taught English after work to the disabled volunteers from the team houses. At the weekends I would often go with the volunteers out to the rural communities to teach English to the children there.
I think any volunteer going to Prey Veng would need to be fairly experienced if they were going alone. It is useful to have a knowledge of paediatric conditions, including cerebral palsy and torticollis.
Most essentials could be bought in Prey Veng, the only thing I had difficulty getting hold of was insect repellent and there are lots of mosquitos there so you should take plenty with you or stock up when in Phnom Penh.
As they are not used to having a lot of Westerners there, it is important to be respectful of their culture, keeping knees and shoulders covered being the main thing. There isn’t really anything in the way of nightlife in Prey Veng but it is a fantastic place to get to know how normal people in Cambodia live so it is great for volunteers who really want to get immersed in the local way of life.
I loved it and would definitely want to return to Prey Veng in the future.
I feel like I was able deliver a much needed service to the community during my time in Prey Veng. It is just disappointing that there were no permanent physiotherapy staff as I would have hoped to work with local staff to share some of my knowledge with them and hopefully left a more long lasting contribution.
I also did a lot of work to develop the FDF website (www.pvfdf.org) which will hopefully help to raise the profile of this organisation and lead to more donations. I think the English teaching I was involved in was also very worthwhile and I could tell that some of the young disabled people from the team houses did improve their English in the time I was there.
For more information about this opportunity read the project page.