Hello (Choum reap sor) from Cambodia! We are Tamsin and Natalie, newly qualified Speech and Language Therapists from City University, London. Together we represent The Cleft Team as part of this year’s City Cambodia Project. We will be working with children with cleft lip and palate across a number of different hospitals within the city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The City Cambodia Project was established in 2007. The project aims to help improve the services available to individuals with speech, language and communication needs in Cambodia. Each year newly qualified Speech and Language Therapists from City University are sent to volunteer in Cambodia to help raise awareness of the profession and to provide practical support and training to empower local staff to offer basic speech and language therapy.
Please follow our weekly blog to keep up to date with our journey of living and working in Cambodia.
We arrived in Phnom Penh on the Tuesday and were immediately confronted by the 30oc++ heat and 84% humidity. Our journey into the city center was Natalie’s first time in a tuk tuk and during rush hour this was certainly an experience. No gap was too small for our tuk tuk driver and the pavement was apparently a viable option in traffic dodging.
Our first few days were spent house hunting and exploring the real estate of Phnom Penh (PP). Within two days we had found three apartments to house all 9 of our volunteers. By the Friday we were all moved in and settling down into our new neighborhood. We are living in the Russian Market area of PP; an area well known to PP’s expat community for its bartering, bakeries and baristas.
A trip to the Royal Palace was our first exposure to the rich history and culture of Cambodia. The Palace is a beautiful marriage of Hindu and Buddhist design; a fitting reflection to the country’s heritage
The rest of that weekend was spent in anticipation of the week ahead and the start of what is technically our first official posts as qualified Speech and Language Therapists.
Children’s Surgical Centre (CSC)
Our first day at CSC was truly eye opening. As we walked through the hospital we passed crowds of people perching wherever possible all waiting to be seen and passed operating theaters with at least three surgeries happening in the same room at the same time. The CSC is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that aims to improve the quality of life for underprivileged individuals with disabilities by providing free rehabilitation surgery. Here we met Samnang one of the only individuals in Cambodia to be employed as a Speech Adviser, offering basic speech and language therapy to individuals with cleft lip and palate pre and post-surgery. We learnt about Samnang’s work and discussed ways that we can help him and his service during our time here.
National Pediatric Hospital (NPH)
Later in the week we met with Dr Alin at NPH; a practicing doctor who is passionate about Speech and Language Therapy and offers free speech and language therapy and advices to her patients with cleft lip and palate. Through observations it is clear that Dr Alin is a competent therapist, however, she is keen to improve her skills. We liaised with Dr Alin giving advice to a mother concerned about feeding her baby currently in the intensive care unit with a cleft palate and Pierre Robin Syndrome. We also liaised with Dr Alin and Dr Vanna during their Cleft Clinic where we saw 16 children in the space of 3 hours. The clinic is for children from all stages of their cleft surgery journeys. Each family is allocated a matter of minutes to establish concerns, progress and to provide basic and somewhat generic speech and language therapy advice. This was certainly an overwhelming experience compared to what we are used to experiencing within the UK’s NHS.
Unfortunately, we were unable to meet with Samnang this week as he was receiving Audiology training. Such training will be fantastic for Samnang as hearing impairments are a common comorbidity for children with cleft lip and palate and this knowledge will certainly benefit his practice as a Speech Advice. We were also unable to meet with Dr. Alin as she was away in Taiwan. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t liaise with our settings this week and it was a strong reminder of the lack of Speech and Language Therapy services available to individuals in Cambodia. Without the work of these two fantastic Speech Advisers individuals with cleft lip and palate in Cambodia do not have access to any other free Speech and Language Therapy Services. Although there are a growing number of private Speech and Language Therapy Practices within the city these are very much reserved for the wealthy.
This week we were lucky enough to arrange a meeting with Sean Ngu from Smile Cambodia. Smile Cambodia is a NGO commitment to providing free operations to patients with cleft lip and palate. We are excited at the prospect of liaising with Sean and his team at the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital.
Our weekend was spent escaping the concrete jungle of PP and exploring the lush green countryside around Oudong Mountain.
This week we were unable to meet with any of our settings due to the Pchum Ben holiday. Pchum Ben is a 15 day Buddhist festival dedicated to honoring the deceased. During this time Cambodians pay respect to their ancestors by spending time with their families, visiting temples and giving offerings. As a result, the city pretty much shuts down. To make the most of the holiday the group decided to visit the Siem Reap and the famous temples of Angkor Wat. Although it was great to see more of Cambodia and learn about its rich history we are very keen to get back to work next week.