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Sunday, 05 July 2015 00:00

Dr. Thuy and Jesse Journal: Cambodia Medical Mission Trip (Part 1): Thuy Treats 30 Patients in Small Vietnamese Village

Dec 15, 2013

During our first One Body Village mission trip to Cambodia, Linh Doan, OBV Cambodia director, took us to two Vietnamese villages in Phnom Penh. Thuy would have a specific task on our visit to the second of the two villages: She was to see and diagnose ailments for 30 men, women, and children.

Even if you read our last blog post "New Girl Joins OBV Cambodia House, Faces Tough Decision," it's worth reminding you that these villages exist in very poor conditions. Generally speaking, these Vietnamese communities are shunned by the larger Cambodian society.

Although many Vietnamese grow up speaking both Vietnamese and Khmer, their undocumented status due to a lack of citizenship in Cambodia makes it hard for them to find proper employment. The men end up working as low-paid construction laborers. The wives take up work of their own while raising their children. The kids go to a school in their village if one is available.

For the two hours that we visited this village, Thuy would become the Vietnamese American version of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Here is what it was like for Thuy to become the doctor for the inhabitants of this village.
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Our trip started like many other trips in Cambodia: We hailed a tuk tuk driver. Linh didn't know how to explain our destination in Khmer, so we had to contact someone else and give the phone to the driver for them to explain.

Our drive would take around 15-20 minutes. As we left the main Phnom Penh area and drew closer to the Vietnamese village on the outskirt of the city, we came across a rather rich and affluent residential complex.

I would come to find out that many of the men of the Vietnamese village we were visiting work as low-wage construction labors who work on this and similar upscale developments.

We arrived at the Vietnamese village. The conditions these villagers live in was made apparent right from the start. These makeshift houses are what separate the villages from the elements. It's as challenged as one could imagine.

This young lass caught our eye, and I'm sure we were a bit of a spectacle for her, as well.

We make our way inside the village. There are three rows of houses divided by dirt roads like the one you see in this picture below.

Everyone lives in close quarters to each other, and with the lack of sanitation it's very easy for disease to spread from family to family.

We arrive at the house of one of our contacts. Linh introduces us to the villagers of this particular alley of houses. We're greeted warmly by everyone, and we're offered bottles of water. Thuy is introduced as the doctor who will see and treat those along this alley.

Thuy gets right to work. She has her first consultation with this woman.

Shortly thereafter, everyone from this alley of houses arrives to have their own consultation. Thuy's patients are primarily women and children. Some men have taken off a half day of work to be seen, as well. Taking off time from work is a very big deal considering these men are paid hourly and for very little money.

At first, this child was having none of Dr. Do.

But Thuy's medical training kicked in, and the child soon warmed up to her.

I took a moment to walk up and down the alley to get a better idea on what the conditions of these villagers were actually like.

One family of four, and perhaps even more, shares this tiny living space. The walls are made out of used concrete bags the men bring home from their work place. Chances are that not all of the concrete dust was removed from the bags, meaning he is inhaling this dust for nearly 24 hours a day and exposing his family to it, as well.

This young man played hide-and-seek with me behind this hanging piece of fabric.

Thuy sees each patient one-by-one. Her pediatrics experience really came in handy for all of the kids she was asked to treat.

This father took time off to see Thuy. After being treated, he used the extra time to hang out with his daughter.

We're about an hour into our visit, and Thuy has seen nearly half of the patients who came to visit her. Many have common ailments that are easily treated with medicine. However, such medicine is very hard to come by due to a general lack of disposable income.

Thuy takes meticulous notes of the patients' names, ailments, and appropriate medication. We would return back to Vietnam, purchase the medicine, and bring it with us on our next medical mission trip to Cambodia in late December.

These two kids couldn't get enough of taking pictures. They kept asking me to take more photos of them and show them on the small viewfinder of my digital camera.

Thuy is nearly done with her consultation visits for the day.

The young boy on the far left comes up to me and asks if I would come outside and play with him. He and I would exit the alley through the same way we entered. A few more kids joined us; they had a fun time playing inside of the tuk tuk that waited for us. We paid the tuk tuk well.

Shortly after hanging out with these kids, Thuy finished the last of her consultations. We collected our belongings, bade our farewells, and made our way back to the tuk tuk.

I remember the look on Thuy's face well. I've never seen her with that level of satisfaction and peace on her face after having engaged in medical work. Granted I know she loves her job back home in Seattle, it's hard to complete with the satisfaction one must get by being the only medical lifeline to a group of people dismissed and forgotten by the world around them.

These people didn't just need medical help, they needed to know that someone actually cared about them.

We will return to Cambodia on Monday, December 16, for a follow up medical visit with these villagers and to deliver the medicines Thuy had promised to bring back from Vietnam.

Jesse Robbins

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