Exploring Cambodia as a volunteer for Open Heart International.
Cambodia is bursting with culture, colour, curries, coconuts, and a hundred-other wonderful ‘C’ words.
Stepping off the cool quarters of the plane, we were instantly swallowed up by the heat and smells. Tuk-tuk’s, markets, food stalls and chaotic traffic are plenty in supply. Yet nothing quite says welcome to Cambodia like scorpion fried rice and tarantula kebabs.
Once I had acclimatised (as much as possible) and caught up on lost sleep, I was ready take hold of the next 9 days and cram in as much as I could! Now the main reason for my visit was to observe, help and write for the amazing Open Heart International Cambodia (OHI) trip.
OHI is a volunteer driven organisation that started with a mission trip originally to Tonga in 1985, as three experts helped save the lives of those with rheumatic heart disease. A disease-causing damage, scarring and straining on the heart, which causes breathlessness, tiredness in physical activity and a low quality of life; plus loads more serious life-threatening complications if left untreated.
Today, hundreds of volunteers a year give up their time and expertise to give others hope and medical help. Now operating in over 13 countries and expanding in the work they do to 6 new avenues, including: cardiac, women’s health, eye surgery, orthopaedic, burns surgery, primary health, construction and engineering.
So, mornings were filled with joyful little smiles from patients, arts and crafts, and some light physio. While evenings were filled with adventures.
As a writer, I wanted to have a really hands on experience and write from the nurses and operating staff’s point of view – so inside the operating theatre I went. Let’s just say I’m not cut out to be a nurse or doctor of any sort, but I braved the blood and gore and was truly amazed.
At first glance, it looked like a mad scientist lab, on closer inspection and after many annoying questions, it still felt like one! There were machines beeping, tubes everywhere (at one point I counted 12 tubes coming from the heart alone) and different machines all hooked up to the patient.
“Arriving in the stillness of dark and patiently waiting for the sun to illuminate the breath-taking silhouette is something you do not want to miss.”
OHI are always looking for volunteers and support, so if you ever have it on your heart (pun intended) to help out in any way, jump over to their website and have a look at the amazing work and missions they do, it is nothing short of Incredible!
Once I had done my research each day and knew what I would write, it was time for adventure. Based in Siem-Reap, the choices were endless. By far one of the most incredible experiences was seeing Angkor Watt temples at sunrise. Arriving in the stillness of dark and patiently waiting for the sun to illuminate the breath-taking silhouette is something you do not want to miss. And exploring the temples amazing and intricate designs was a dream.
Some other mind-blowing temples to check out are the Bayon temples, Baphuon and my favourite the Ta Prohm temples, or as I like to call them, “tomb raider temples”.
After seeing the beauty of Siem Reap from the sky, I knew I wanted to explore as much of it as possible. So, a group of us hired out a few bikes and a tour guide. 2 hours later, with sore muscles and drenched in sweat, we’d seen over 10km’s of beautiful Cambodian countryside.
Now if there’s any village you need to see, it is the Floating Villages in Kompong Phluk. The entire village is literally on the water; from the school, church, hospital, even a small café. The best, and really the only way to see the village, is of course by boat. You can hire a local guide/boat driver and if you’re lucky, he might even give you a go driving the long boat. With half the steering wheel missing, weak string linking up from it and lots of other boats around, I jumped behind the steering wheel. Don’t be fooled, it actually took a lot of muscle, and focus!
10 days later, after a whole lot of spicy flavours, marketplace treasures, happy patients and a whole lot of memories – I left content. Vowing to never take my health, relationship and surrounds for granted.