Today, I’m going with Tha Kong to Samrong hospital. This young woman, aged 24, has already been studying for two years to become a nurse. This year she’s going to specialise so she can become a midwife. Kong is sponsored through Children of the Mekong and comes from Oddar Meanchay, an extremely poor province in the far north of Cambodia. She entered the COTM education centre in Samrong when she was at high school. Having passed the baccalaureat, she took an examination and was accepted at the school of nursing in Battambang, a large town in the northwest. Every year during the summer, she does practical placements at the hospital. She loves coming back to Samrong, and her dream is to work here when she qualifies, in a year’s time. It’s here that I meet her.
This morning, she’s taking me to visit the hospital where she is doing a placement, a few steps away from the EDM centre where she lives. First of all, the health centre where pregnant women are monitored. Kong seems very much at ease as she takes the blood pressure and measures the abdomen of the pregnant women. At the beginning of pregnancy, each woman is offered tests to check for symptoms of aids, malaria or syphilis. These diseases can prevent the foetus developing properly as well as jeopardising the health of the mother-to-be.
In reception there is a new-born baby, just one day old, with his father and grandmother. Kong does not hesitate for a moment when asked by the senior midwife to vaccinate the baby against hepatitis B. Her actions are precise and assured.
The atmosphere is calm, even cheerful. The children of doctors and midwives come to work with their parents when they aren’t old enough to go to school. They laugh and play happily in the corridors. One of them, the 2- or 3-year-old daughter of the senior doctor in maternity, even comes and gives me a hug! I’m surprised, because the children here aren’t used to seeing “baraings” (white people) and seldom dare to come near them!
Kong, along with another student whose dream is to go to Paris, takes me to see the maternity ward. There I visit the labour room where women give birth, not so different from those found in Europe. I also visit the young mothers who have recently given birth, an opportunity for me to learn how to say “congratulations” in Khmer: “saum abaarsossae”. There are between 4 and 10 of them per room, each in bed cuddling their baby who is wrapped in the traditional karma to keep warm despite the ambient 30°. The families are also there. I meet a row of grandmothers sitting on the floor against the wall of the room. Each one, with a huge smile, points out which one is her grandson or granddaughter. I am very moved to see them so happy. Fathers are there too, getting used to their new role, tentatively – the first time for some of them – dressing their little one, cradling it in their arms.
The visit comes to an end. Kong, pleased to have shown me her future work, asks me about medicine in France, the hospitals… She loves taking care of people and dreams of coming back to her native province to work. She is an example of how Children of the Mekong would like to see each of their sponsored children develop. Kong has managed to leave poverty behind, take up studies and become a self-confident young woman, someone who is helping her country and hopes that her brothers and sisters in Cambodia will do so too. She is the embodiment of hope.
Thank you to all those who hold out this hope by supporting the actions of Children of the Mekong.
Text and photos: Aksinia Boiret – Overseas Volunteer in Samrong, Cambodia