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Bonita Sinartio – Public Health in Cambodia High School Special

Public Health outreach in a Cambodian village

Going into this project, I did not really know what to expect. I have read travel books and watched videos about Cambodia and learnt a little bit about the culture, mostly the etiquette. However, other than that, I had no further knowledge. I choose to do Public Health in Cambodia because it was the closest to home (I am from Indonesia). The culture itself was not much different. Also, I have always had an interest in public health. I want become a doctor and help others in need, so I thought this would be a good experience for me.

My first day in Cambodia

I arrived at our hotel quite late at night and I was exhausted. For the first night, I stayed in my hotel room. The Projects Abroad staff members were really friendly and introduced themselves one by one. They were understanding, fun and cracked jokes. They were more like friends to me than coordinators. I quickly got to meet other people, not only from my specific project, but from the Care & Community Short-term Special as well. They were all very friendly and I was happy to be making friends from people from all over the world.

Volunteering on the Public Health programme

The first time going to the village, I did not know what to expect. Our coordinators did give us a briefing and teach us skills that we needed to know, like taking blood sugar, blood pressure, etc. They also taught us some basic Khmer, the language of Cambodia. Simple saying like "Su sday!" (hello), "Okun" (thank you), and much more. The local villagers were thankful for what we did for them, even though it only took two hours of our day. They thanked us constantly and looked so happy when we distributed medication.

When we do not have house visits, we went to a kindergarten and taught the children simple day-to-day things that they could do to improve their health. This included washing their hands and learning about worms. The children were amazing and they were friendly and respectful. They were also very independent, which is what shocked me the most. Most children in Indonesia get spoon-fed until they are 7-9 years old, but in Cambodia, I saw kids as young as three who were feeding themselves.

Exploring in Cambodian culture

Visiting a local temple in Cambodia

Coming to Cambodia, I knew I had to eat some bugs. That is what it is known for! We went to the market and I got to try some crickets and tarantula. It was delicious. It was so great having to share this experiences with the friends I made in this trip. We had a lot of good laughs about this, especially from our vegetarian friends.

We also got to learn more about Cambodian culture and history that was both sad and interesting. We went to the genocide museum and the killing fields. We learnt that long ago, a group of communists called the Khmer Rouge came to Cambodia to relieve it from American bombings, only to send them to concentration camps to be ruthlessly killed if you were educated or a threat to their regime. People were put in these horrible camps for wearing glasses or speaking a different language, and their wife and children were killed as well in the most horrendous ways to prevent any children from having revenge on them later in life. This shocked me because I never learnt about this in school. I did not know that this happened at all. This opened my eyes to how there are so many things I do not know about this world and that I need to find out for myself.

Leaving Cambodia

Volunteers watch a traditional Cambodian show

Leaving Cambodia was very sad. I regretted not staying there longer. Saying goodbye to my friends was the saddest part. It’s strange how long a short time feels like when you have amazing people around you. Going into this project, I did not really know what to expect. To be honest, I just expected to gain more points for university applications, however I learnt so much from this trip and made some lifelong friends.

I learnt that this is what I want to do in life, helping people and making a difference. This made me change my career option from plastic surgeon to a public health doctor. I want to come back to Cambodia someday, with Projects Abroad and try a longer project. The experience was life changing and I could not have found it anywhere else. It was challenging and hard sometimes, but I had the best time of my life!

Bonita Sinartio

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