Observing at the Health Center

28 10 2011

I have spent the past few weeks doing little more than observing at my health center; however, I have gotten to see quite a few things already. For example, a couple of days after I arrived, a Cambodian NGO—sponsored by the US government—came to the health center and led a one-week training on birth spacing practices (ie, birth control/family planning) for all of the village health volunteers (VHVs). So I got to witness the training techniques, soak in the new technical vocabulary in Khmer, meet NGO professionals and get acquainted with all 16 of the VHVs.

One of my favorite Village Health Volunteers

The health center where I work serves 16 villages, and each village appoints a health volunteer who serves as the liaison between the health center and the community. The VHV is trained in topics from general hygiene to malaria prevention to nutrition and more. In my district, each volunteer also has basic medications that (s)he can sell to the community. This would include things like ibuprofen, birth control pills, oral rehydration salts, etc.

So I met all the VHVs at this week-long training at the health center, which was great. I got to introduce myself and my role with the health center, and informally ask them about the health problems in their communities. But then, it got better! The midwife asked me to join her on village outreach events—two a day, for eight days. That meant that I could potentially see all 16 villages that are served by the Kampong Kdey Health Center.

Women and children at one of the outreach events

I didn’t make it to sixteen, but I did go to ten. The midwife would come get me at the health center and off we would ride, her on her motorcycle, me on my bike. Although riding a bike on bumpy dirt roads in the Cambodian heat was not my favorite part of the day—especially because I was trying desperately to 1.) keep up with the midwife’s moto, 2.) smile at everyone I passed and 3.) not get too sweaty since I was about to meet new people—the village visits have been a highlight for me.

In each village, we met up with the VHV. (S)he and the midwife would then give a short presentation on birth spacing methods. An interesting aspect of Cambodian culture is that pre-marital sex is not very common, particularly in the villages. So these talks were generally aimed at women who were already mothers, but did not want or could not afford to have more children.

For those of you health people out there, the seven methods that were taught include the pill, condoms, IUDs, implants, the shot, tubal ligation, and vasectomies. And just to put things in perspective, 12 condoms here cost 13 US cents and the 10-year IUD costs US$2.50.

I took pictures in each village as a way of remembering each volunteer and meeting place. To check them out, go here:


Sometimes men attend, too!

In addition to the village visits, I have spent many mornings at the center, talking with patients and observing the system. I finally feel like I have enough information to start an assessment, so next week I will dive into that. In a few more weeks I hope to update with some conclusions and, hopefully, some initial project ideas.

Other than the work at the health center, I have been helping Tim with a few private classes that we co-teach at our house. We’ve also been doing our very best to meet with every NGO in and around our town, but you’d be surprised how elusive the staff can be. We’re also taking one short hour of Khmer classes each week, which provides an opportunity to ask about things we’ve heard throughout the week, but is not enough time for any real instruction. We are still searching for a more formal tutor, and, ideally, we would each have our own since we have different schedules and different interests.




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