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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Final Bittersweet days in Cambodia


COUNTRY: Cambodia 
PROJECT: Oral Health
WRITTEN BY: Sanam Rezaei

After a fantastic break in Siem Reap, everyone returned to Phnom Penh ready to complete the last week of clinic to the best of their ability. With only two days remaining at the PIO school and with many students feeling unwell or run down, we really had to come together as a team to complete as many students as possible in our short time. At the completion of our week at PIO, we had seen over 280 students. It was incredible to see the fantastic effects of SDF (silver fluoride) during this time, with the students who were in year 3 or above, having minimal caries and evident areas of arrested caries as a result of their six monthly fluoride applications and regular screening. It was so encouraging to see that the efforts of the One2One charitable trust and Dr. Bethy’s PhD research was really benefiting the children in this area and those attending PIO. To complete our placement at the school, each child was provided with a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap. As we handed these out through several classes, the children were overjoyed to be receiving something that they could call their own. It was a sad goodbye on this day, as we had all began really enjoying visiting the beautiful children who attended PIO.

The following day we began our three-day rural placement. Once again the Phnom Penh traffic was a huge shock to us, as it took 2 hours to travel just 40kms to ‘Le Refuge’ in Oudong. The bus arrived at a beautiful garden, where children were playing on the grass or on the playground. We were greeted by Dr Saram, the founder of ‘Le Refuge’, who gave us a tour and explained to us how the place began. Dr Saram lost his wife and children during the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 80’s, he was shot in the neck as he made his escape to the Thailand border. He miraculously survived and migrated to France, where he studied to become a heart surgeon. After living in France for some time, Dr Saram returned to his home nation to give back to his people. He moved to Phnom Penh and started working in a hospital, before noticing that many of his patients were from the region of Oudong. This motivated him to open an out-patient clinic in Oudong, so his patients did not have to stay in Phnom Penh far away from their families and homes during their recovery time. With funding from his friends and colleagues in France, he continued expanding ‘Le Refuge’ to house up to 25 children who did not have parents or whose parents had moved for work. He provides these children with shelter, clothing, education and food. He also provides every child in Oudong lunch three times a week. 

Through the ten years of ‘Le Refuge’ it had expanded to also include a dental clinic and optometry clinic. As dentists from Phnom Penh only regularly visit on weekends to volunteer at ‘Le Refuge’ the children were rarely seen, as they would be working or helping their parents. Dr Saram’s story was truly inspirational, and we all felt motivated to see the children of Oudong as they had no access to dental care. The next three days we screened 80 children at ‘Le Refuge’, providing fluoride applications and fissure sealants. It was quite challenging, with so many children to see in only three days, we really had to come together as a team to practice efficiently in this fast paced clinic with minimal supplies. 

Days were long, having 11 hour days from the time we would leave the hotel to the time we would return home, and our energy levels were running low, however our motivation was high. Knowing these children’s access to care was rare, we all came together to help each other and work harder when students were unwell. It did become overwhelming at stages, when we couldn’t address the child’s immediate needs, such as pain. With the healing process being delayed due to the humidity, deciduous teeth would not be extracted unless it was necessary. While also focusing on long term preventive treatment, it did not provide us with that immediate reward. However, having applied over 200 fissure sealants and fluoride applications at Oudong, it was reassuring to know that we potentially saved 100’s of permanent teeth for the children in this area. 

After our final day at Oudong on Friday, we travelled to our Farewell dinner at FCC, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Tonlé Sap and Mekong rivers. We shared a three course meal with three of the dental students that helped us throughout our Antipodeans placement and with our in-country partner Linda. We all exchanged gifts during our meals and exchanged stories of our experiences throughout the two and a half weeks together. It was a fantastic evening and a bittersweet end to an amazing trip. We were all excited to head home to our families and friends but we were also very upset that the amazing experience was coming to an end. It was reassuring to know that we accomplished so much in our time in Cambodia and made a difference to almost 400 children’s lives. 18 days had flown past so quickly but it was incredible how many experiences we squeezed into our short time in Cambodia.

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COUNTRY: Cambodia 
PROGRAM: Faculty Placement
PROJECT: Oral Health
WRITTEN BY: Sanam Rezaei 

Walking out of the Phnom Penh International Airport at 6:30pm, a gush of 29°C heat and humidity swept over us! ‘Welcome to Cambodia’ our tour guide said as we climbed on the bus. As we began our slow journey, the incredible amount of vehicles, scooters and tuk-tuks on the roads was overwhelming. There are so many vehicles on Phnom Penh roads that a 10km trip from the airport to our hotel took us an hour! During this trip, our tour guide explained the culture and surroundings of Phnom Penh, she explained just how poor so many Cambodians are, with the average person surviving on only $1 a day. As we arrived to our home for the next 18 days and most of us were feeling quite miserable about the circumstances of the people here, feeling as though there wasn’t much hope. 


  

The following morning, we visited ‘Friends International’ a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) that is involved in keeping children safe and encouraging education and business within Cambodia, and preventing young and old from being involved in begging, drugs, sex trafficking and homelessness. It also supports businesses that hire marginalized youth and encourage education and employment within this sub-population. They provided us with an educational seminar on the ‘Child Safe Movement’ and how to prevent tourism that encourages the abuse of children. We then visited the public and private dental universities of Phnom Penh. It was incredible to see how similar both universities were to home! It was impressive to see how thorough the courses are in Cambodia. Both private and public universities had a dental clinic where the public could come receive dental treatment pricing from $1. The students also have the option to provide free treatment to individuals who seem incredibly poor and require treatment. We all felt a lot more hope after this day, seeing how many NGO’s and individuals are motivated to encourage healthy safe environments for children and to encourage safe work for everyone within the community. The Universities provided hope, seeing how dedicated and motivated students were to make a change in their community and provide incredible, vital care in their home town. 




 The third day we had tours of the Palace, the genocide museum and the killing fields. This day was emotionally draining for everyone on the trip. It’s truly heartbreaking to see how much the people of Cambodia have faced with throughout the past 50 years, and how difficult it has been to rebuild from this. With so many fundamental issues still not having been resolved within the community, it seems difficult to address dental concerns. Access to electricity, access to clean water, basic personal hygiene, rubbish collection and public bins are still not available throughout the whole of Cambodia. Issues such as water fluoridation and tooth brushing cannot be solved when basic human needs have not been met for everyone. On our tuk-tuk home, a few of us were waving to a child who was in the car next to us. When the cute boy broke into laughter, all his upper front teeth had decay. This was quite a shock to us at the time as this would be a rare sight in Australia. However for a child in Cambodia, by the age of 6 the average DMFT score is 9. This means that on average, by the age of 6 a child will have 9 decayed, missing or filled teeth, being almost half the teeth that they would have by this age. 

We spent the next four days at PIO (People Improvement Organisation) School that was built along a rubbish dump to support families and educate children in this area, who had turned to picking rubbish out of the dump to support themselves. In conjunction with One2One Charitable Trust, we were providing silver diamond fluoride (SDF) to the deep pits and fissures of every child within the school, while also providing ART restorations and fissure seals to high risk patients. There are 500 children within the school that require their 6 monthly SDF application, and we are trying to get through as many as we can within our 6 days at this clinic. Having four make-shift dental chairs, using tables and chairs to create our own clinic, it was quite demanding. With no triplex, suction, light or access to all our usual equipment or materials, working within these conditions really encourages team work and being versatile. Making our own cotton pellets from cotton balls, creating our own autoclave with a pressure cooker for sterilising, manually writing down computer notes before entering them into the computer as quick as we can with the slow Wi-Fi access, working in teams of three with one person holding the flash-light and using bins for spit buckets are only a few of the changes to our usual luxurious dental clinics. Being within these clinics really makes you appreciate just how privileged we are, and after day one we were all wishing we had our dental chairs with suction and the triplex back!  



The children, however, make every hot day rewarding, and their beautiful personalities motivated us to complete each day. By the end of the week we were all ready for our three day trip to Siem Reap to explore more of Cambodia’s history.
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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The end of an amazing experience...



COUNTRY: Vietnam
PROGRAM: Faculty Placement
PROJECT: Midwifery
WRITTEN BY: Patricia McKenzie

Following an exciting and interesting first week at the hospital, the group looked forward to a weekend of leisure in Vinh Long. The Saturday saw the group take a tour along the Mekong Delta to the floating markets. We stopped at several sites to see the local people making traditional rice paper, snake wine and performed theatrical Vietnamese songs. The group disembarked onto smaller wooden row boats with a single woman paddling standing up. We sat in groups of four and travelled seamlessly through smaller channels. We saw beautiful greenery and witnessed local Mekong Delta residents going about their usual day. The Sunday was a time of relaxation and immersion into the local Vinh Long atmosphere.

Our final week at the hospital went past quickly. Our Vietnamese language skills had developed and basic communication with the local women and families was possible; even if they did find our pronunciation hilarious. The professional relationships between the staff and students further grew. This allowed for open transfer of practices, culture and knowledge. We gained valuable insight into the Vietnamese way, particularly their great family involvement from pregnancy to the postnatal period. We provided information on Australian obstetric practices which that staff found very interesting.




As the week neared the end, our group was humbled to be invited to share meals with the local staff. A generous invitation for a few of us to attend an Anniversary of Death at a doctor’s home was humbling and beyond expected. On attendance a lush spread of local food was presented before us. This had obviously taken several days to prepare and tasted divine. Another generous invitation to attend a local restaurant for pancakes arrived from another doctor. On our final day at the hospital, we dined together with several doctors and midwives and enjoyed the Vietnamese pancakes. We returned to the hospital and said our goodbyes. It was a bittersweet moment to part with the wonderful staff and families as we began our trip home to our own families. 

We travelled back to Ho Chi Minh City on the final Friday, ready to depart for Adelaide on the Saturday evening. We were fortunate enough to have some more leisure time. On the Friday evening we enjoyed a delicious farewell dinner and saw the views from the highest building in Ho Chi Minh City on the 52 nd floor. On Saturday morning most of the group went to the Cu Chi tunnels to learn of the Vietnamese War and its impact. Finally, we scattered to quickly buy gifts and bargains from the local markets before departure. 

Now back in Australia to our creature comforts, I reflect on the most amazing experience I have had as a student midwife. Words cannot describe these experiences well enough, especially those shared with the women, families, local practitioners and as a group. We thank Antipodeans for arranging this placement and extend a special thank you to Michelle, Chi and Tam.


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Monday, 25 July 2016

A Day in the Life


COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Education
WRITTEN BY: Tahlee Rose

I wake up to the sound of prayer chants and music. The same familiar song plays over and over as I sip on a Nepali tea and gulp down balep korkun and fried eggs. An ever eventful bus ride sees me on my way to school where a flood of warm Namastes, Hellos and Good Mornings from parents, students, teachers and even people on the street, greet me at the entrance.

We all assemble in an outdoor courtyard, with the children completing a number of rounds of different prayers and chants. All the children know every word, even the smallest Montessori students. They finish up on a handful of English nursery rhymes and songs, which I get to lead today, playing ukulele and doing the actions out the front with the rest of the teachers. I teach them a few new songs and games, with their favourite being the Hokey Pokey. It has us all in stitches as the students and teachers try not to tumble over in the dirt as we run into the middle for the WOAH HOKEY POKEY. I sing some Australian folk songs to them before wrapping assembly up, after over an hour of fun and games! It’s off to class, where I teach a foundation (3-4yrs old) class of 20 students. We sing songs and play instruments with a focus on mathematics and literacy, counting and chanting the alphabet.


The children understand only a little English, but that is the beauty of teaching using music; we all find a way to understand one another. We finish up with an art activity that is chaotic, but results in some very beautiful artworks. Lunch is a short break, filled with cheap, delicious momos at the City Market. When I get back to school I receive an invitation to a wedding on the weekend! I’m beyond excited as the teachers tell me they will find me a beautiful Sari to wear. I skip off to hold a teacher training session. I hold a seminar for the primary teachers at the school, focusing on a few different areas. We discuss how to integrate creative arts, with a focus on music, into their curriculum and ideas related to behavioural and classroom management, mostly concerning discipline. It’s amazing how interested the teachers are in our methods of education and I feel incredibly encouraged by their willingness to participate, ask questions and take on board the information. We all leave with big smiles on our faces, after playing egg shakers, drums and singing together for hours.


I catch the bus home, grab a little treat for the kids in my host family and go inside to talk to my host mum about the amazing day I’ve had. I spend a little time inside before I duck out to take a shower. There is nothing better than the feeling of tipping that cold bucket of water over your head each night in some attempt to feel something other than sweaty in this amazingly humid climate. Dinner is delicious, and the evening is spent chatting about all kinds of things until we all have nothing left to say. I go to bed knowing tomorrow will be equally as amazing, but nothing will be as I expect. There is nothing typical about a day in Nepal.

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What I got out of my Antipodeans' Unibreak


COUNTRY: Cambodia
PROGRAMUniBreak
PROJECT: Law
WRITTEN BY: Lauren Cutuli

An appreciation for my life 
I always knew we had it good in Australia, but coming back from Cambodia made me reflect on exactly how good we do have it. We are so lucky to have a government that supports health and education. Having an education is something that is truly valuable and can never be taken away from you. I realised just how fortunate we are to have access to education and have a government that supports this. I came back a more peaceful, grateful and tolerant person.

Having a government and system that upholds the rule of law is something most Australians would definitely take for granted. Having been exposed to Cambodians who have had their land taken from them and their houses bulldozed by the government with little to no compensation is devastating and a reality we will likely never face in Australia. Practicing as a lawyer in Australia is much easier and much more supported by resources, education and without the uphill battle against a corrupt system. Working in the legal system in Cambodia taught me to appreciate the Australian legal system and the value of foreign aid. 




The confidence to travel 
This trip has given me the confidence to travel the world, even on my own. Traveling overseas, somewhere you have never been with a group of people you have never met was a new and overwhelming experience. It taught me that I am much more capable on my own than I realised and that the world is my oyster! I am more eager than ever to experience the world and even go to places I previously never would have considered.

You only get out of life what you put in 
Yes, this is a cliché quote you would see on a fridge magnet or bumper sticker. And yes, this was stressed to us before we left, but I didn’t really think about it until I was almost finished my first week of placement. I noticed that those of us who enjoyed the experience the most were the ones who put everything in, who asked questions, who engaged with locals and who were optimistic and open- minded. Those who arrived with preconceptions or expectations were quickly disappointed and this tended to leave a bad taste for the rest of their trip. Going into any experience, particularly one that involved work, travel or both, it is so important not to have any expectations before hand and to just dive in! I would much rather leave exhausted than with regrets of what I should have done or said. I have always been a fairly optimistic and open-minded person but this trip showed me why this is so important to take things as they come and embrace every opportunity life throws your way.


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Friday, 22 July 2016

Top 5 Must-Do’s in Pokhara!


COUNTRY: Nepal
PROGRAM: UniBreak
PROJECT: Teaching
WRITTEN BY: Emily Carton

In Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city and home of some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the country there is so much to see and do – here are our top five from the group! 

1. Paragliding  
Pokhara is home to the glorious Annapurna mountain range as well as the beautiful Phewa Tal Lake and the most exciting way to see the scenery is Paragliding. So on a sunny Saturday morning Tahlee, Emma and I were all set to go! 

We all hopped in a four-wheel drive with our instructors and endured the very bumpy and sometimes scary ride up to Sarangot. With Nepali rock music blaring and the mountains coming into view – we were all very excited! We all got strapped into our harnesses and said goodbye to each other one by one as we each ran off the mountain into mid air. The rush of adrenaline that you feel once your feet suddenly aren’t touching the ground and you are floating in the sky is like nothing else. Seeing Pokhara from a bird’s eye view is an incredible experience. Author's note: Prepare for the unexpected motion sickness. 

2. Exploring Lakeside 
Lakeside is Pokhara’s central tourist hub situated right in the middle of Phewa Tal Lake. It’s buzzing with restaurants, bars and shops and is a favorite spot for weekends and afternoons. Most weekends we like to wind down with a drink at Busy Bee Café the local tourist bar and enjoy some delicious middle-eastern food at our favorite spot OR2K. The days are spent exploring the many shops trying to grab a bargain on some clothing, jewelry or handicrafts. And if we’re lucky one of us might indulge in a spa afternoon for a mere $30AUD!  

3. Enjoying local food 
The local Nepali and Tibetan food is something everyone must try! It’s on offer all over Pokhara but we’re lucky enough to enjoy traditional home made Tibetan meals every day at our homestays. We’ve tried many local delicacies such as Dhal Bhat, Chow Mien and our favourite, MoMos Tibetan Style dumplings. We even tried making these much to our host mum’s amusment… she hasn’t asked for our help since! 

4. World Peace Pagoda 
The World Peace Pagoda is another great experience that we’ve enjoyed whilst in Pokhara. The World Heritage Listed Buddhist temple sits atop of a mountain and looks over all of Pokhara city and the Annapurna mountain range. Tahlee and I made the journey over to the mountain by boat over the Phewa Tal Lake. We then enjoyed the one-hour hike through the forest, passing local wildlife and traditional houses. Waiting for us at the spectacular white temple amongst the beautiful flower garden overlooking all of Pokhara. We enjoyed the serenity of this sacred place. 

5. Sarangot  
Sarangot is one of the biggest Must-Do’s whilst in Pokhara. It offers the best view in Pokhara to see the Annapurna mountain range and, if seen at sunrise or sunset, is said to turn the White Mountains caps into a celestial gold. We’ve all had the chance to see Sarangot in different ways. With some of us Paragliding from the top, and others undertaking the 4-5 hour trek. Any way that you see Sarangot is an amazing experience and one that can’t be missed.
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Friday, 15 July 2016

A Pal-umporium of Experiences!



COUNTRY: India
PROGRAM: Faculty Placement
PROJECT: Physiotherapy
WRITTEN BY: Eric Djoeandy

So before we get into the ins and outs of placement in week 2, we have to describe the incredible first weekend we had in McLeod Ganj, home of none other than the Dalai Lama himself. While we were not able to visit him personally we got to see the temple and were both amazed and deeply moved by the enlightening Tibetan museum. Our favourite meal was exquisite Mo Mos (like dumplings) at the Tibetan Kitchen. Matty wanted Ti-bet who could eat the most Mo Mos. Justin won that competition hands down, as he just ate Mo and Mo! We also got to do an overnight trek to Triund and the snowline in the Dhauladhar mountain ranges. The hiking was truly world class and the views were so expansive and clear that Jack wanted to Tri-and spot Palampur! Unfortunately it was a bit of a rainy day with an abundance of clouds and fog – nonetheless we train our best to push on through the ter-rain! After 20km of climbs and descents each day, we were quite tired by the end. Charlotte said she was so exhausted she sore stars. It was a truly hard work out for the collective squad-riceps.

This week, the physios have been split between 3 clinics. We are really starting to get really involved in patients’ treatments, and have been given freedom to assess, treat, develop treatment plans and prescribe exercises. The patients and staff have been incredibly friendly and open to us. We have enjoyed chai breaks, learning body parts and counting in Hindi. One patient was being a bit lazy so Cassie told him to chai harder. In all seriousness, we have really enjoyed being in a tea-m environment. Jen had a patient with a rare hip concern. The symptoms were exacerbated with the cold. Thus her primary hip-othesis was that the patient was suffering from brrrrrrrr-sitis. 



Sophie has been treating one lady with knee osteoarthritis. It was clear that the patient knee-ded to strengthen their thigh muscles. Eric has been at a clinic next to the police training centre. One patient had shoulder pain. Eric thought it was due to overuse of the rotator ‘cuff’s, and advised the patient to take ‘arrest’. The health sciences students have been shadowing a local GP, seeing lots of patients with kidney stones, gallstones and diabetes. Justin was so concerned when he saw a young child in pain, he said ‘this kid-ney’ds urgent treatment!’  

Eloise’s favourite part of this week has been the daal-ightful food back at the house. Alison has been at a school with younger children and enjoyed the triumphs and challenges that inevitably come with corralling younger humans. They’ve enjoyed counting to ten, although one or two have been a bit ten-tative. Although she’s always been ‘four’ their learning, once in a while the kids have been in a silly st-eight. We have all come to discover that Palampur really does have a ‘number’ of interesting areas with an a-pun-dance of invaluable experience to be gained.
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